God is love. God is not love.
On the surface, a statement such as this seems impossible and irreconcilable.
How can God be both love and not love at the same time?
The word “love” is limited by our physicality, which not only significantly constrains our experience of love, but also severely inhibits our vocabulary and verbal expression of love, how we talk about love, if you will.
In short, we have a “skin issue” that limits our love-experience of God, which then restricts how we speak of this experience. Both the experience of God’s love and then the language we use to describe God’s love are profoundly insufficient.
So while God’s essence is certainly love, we do not have the physical, experiential or verbal capacity to even come close to describing God as love-essence. Even though God is unconstrained love-essence, we are constrained in our experience of God’s love-essence and then by the words we use to describe that experience.
Maybe an easier way of saying this is: How do you even begin to experience the inexperienceable, or describe the indescribable?
In a very real sense, God is love, but God is not love.
God is love-essence, but our limited word for love will never come close to capturing or describing God’s love-essence.
One may wonder why it is so important to make such a nuanced argument. Is it not sufficient to simply say, “God is love, and then be content with that?”
At some level, yes.
It is completely possible to say “God is love” and only understand God’s love through our limited love-experience, but it will always be constrained by our senses and our physicality, our “skin issue.”
But — and this is why this particular discussion is so important — it is possible to go beyond our limited love-experience of God and enter into the vast and all-consuming love-essence of God.
And it is in that place where everything changes.
While even our significantly limited love-experience of God can change our hearts and transform our minds, entering into the vast and all-consuming love-essence of God alters our very being.
So if God is both love and not love from our finite, limited human perspective … then what can we learn from this seeming contradiction and what can we do to come close to knowing God’s love-essence, despite our significant limitations and constraints?
The first answer is that a person can only live in the limited and finite love they already know. So while God’s love-essence is always available, and as we will find … always accessible, we are all born into a situation in which we can only know a limited love-experience.
And unfortunately, this is a wide and varied spectrum based on myriad factors — where one is raised, how one is raised, the parents one has, what relationships one had or currently has, what views one has developed of him or herself, etc. This is probably where most people stay their entire lives, knowing only the limited and finite love they have learned or experienced from those around them.
Even more tragically, there are those in this category who may have learned a very distorted and warped “love” that manifests in unhealthy ways. And it is at this point where there is some significant overlap with religion.
There are elements in religion that distort and warp “love” in unhealthy ways. Many times this “love” is expressed in terms of guilting, shaming and damning.
For instance, one may say that the guilt he imposes on another is done because of his love for another, or one may say that the shame she imposes on another is done because of her love for another.
This negative outward expression or manifestation is not love, for love-essence never expresses to elicit guilt or shame.
However, there are those who grow up with a distorted understanding of “love” based upon a distorted experience of “love.”
One could say that this is an extreme end of the spectrum that is incapable of “loving like God,” because the God-love they know is only expressed or received in guilt, shame and damnation.
There are some in the religious realm who understand the “love of God” more broadly because they have had a more immersive experience with God’s love, but still constrained by the skin condition. While there are certainly varying degrees of this immersive love from person to person, it is actually closer to God’s love-essence.
The question then becomes, “How, despite our skin condition, despite any distorted or warped love-experience we have encountered, can we fully experience the immersive love of God?”
The answer is that, in this lifetime, I do not believe we can. But I do believe that there are avenues by which our experience of God’s love-essence can evolve and grow.
So how is this possible?
I believe the beginning point is communion with God’s love-essence through God’s Spirit. I believe this is where heart and life transformation begin. This where we learn the limitation of our experience and vocabulary, and also the depths and breadths of God’s love-essence we could not experience in our tangible, touchable world.
I also believe contemplation and contemplative prayer are essential.
Contemplation helps one go beyond words on a page, what we’ve been taught and what we have experienced toward an introspective, self-reflective meditation that desires to feed and commune on a greater love-essence. I believe it is only in an ask, seek, knock posture where we begin to experience the depths that are un-utterable, un-speakable.
One can only fully live in the love they have experienced and that can be painfully limited and even distorted, many times in religion. To go beyond these limitations and constraints, it takes God’s own Spirit to pour out greater breadths and depths of God’s love-essence and then our own contemplation done in a seeking posture for us to even begin getting close to God’s love essence in this lifetime.
Words and experience can only take us so far. And that destination is painfully and woefully short of God’s love-essence.
Brandon Andress of Columbus is a former local church leader, a current iTunes podcast speaker and a contributor to the online Outside the Walls blog. He can be reached at his website at brandonandress.com.