When I was a boy, I looked forward to the times my grandfather visited from Pennsylvania. He’d walk in with his little suitcase, along with a small box. The box contained treats – pieces of candy and chewing gum he’d collected for his grandchildren. In his rich Hungarian accent he called it, “kendee” and “choon gum.”
Grandpa Tamasy wasn’t an outwardly affectionate man, but this was his way of displaying his love for us. At first the sweets were a pleasant surprise. Then they became expected, as if we were entitled to them. If he’d arrived without them, we would have wanted to know why.
I remember a time while visiting him that I’d damaged one of my toys. An excellent, self-taught mechanic, Grandpa went to his basement to get some tools and repair the toy. He came back up and told me, “I can’t fix it.” I responded – to my shame today – “You can’t fix anything!” (Yes, I was a brat.)
The reason for recalling what I said is because I’ll never forget the hurt in his eyes after I’d said it. Without a word, my grandfather turned and went back to the basement. When he ascended the stairs again, he carried the toy, restored. No words of rebuke. He just handed me the toy, an expression of his love for me.
Sometimes when people repeat the passage from the Bible, “God is love” (1 John 4:8), I think that’s how they perceive it. God is like a kindly old grandfather, eager to bring us nice stuff, incredibly understanding and tolerant of our failings, and more than willing to forgive. No matter what we do, He’ll just smile and pat us on the head.
There some truth to that, but to thus confine our view of God’s love is to insult Him beyond words. It also limits our appreciation for all He is and all He’s done for us.
Continuing on in the “God is love” passage provides some clarity. “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10).
As someone has said, God loves us as we are – but loves us too much to let us remain that way. God hates sin – our sins – so much that He paid the penalty for them, to redeem and reconcile us to Himself. Romans 5:8 states, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Elsewhere Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends” (John 15:13). He made this statement with full knowledge of the death He would experience on the cross.
So when we talk about God being love – or when a tragedy occurs and we wonder, “How could a loving God allow something like that?” – we should understand the love of God isn’t a warm, fuzzy, snuggly emotion, but a profound, self-sacrificing, unconditional commitment.