“The Beatles said all you need is love,” Larry Norman sang. “Then they broke up.”
Love is the thing we all know we need. And yet love is the thing we struggle so much to get right. We think of it largely in terms of feelings, of “being in love” or “falling in love,” but feelings are fleeting. That kind of love certainly can’t be all we need; it’s so hard to maintain!
I remember some of the best love advice I ever got. It was right before my wedding, and my dad had taken me aside to encourage and pray for me. I jokingly said, “What if I fall out of love?” He returned my sarcasm, “Then you fall right back in!” My dad was really making the point that real love is not something you fall in and out of. It’s intentional. It has movement.
I think of this every time I’m attending a wedding and 1 Corinthians 13 is read. Many couples automatically go to this great “love chapter” simply because it’s all about love. But I don’t think many are paying much attention to what it actually says. Because when things start getting difficult, when conflict pops up—as it inevitably must in close relationships—suddenly keeping no record of wrongs and hoping and bearing all things doesn’t seem to make much sense.
The kind of love that’s real, the kind of love Scripture actually teaches, the love that’s higher and deeper and stronger than all our stupid pop songs and romance novels and chick flicks is impossible to manufacture out of emotions and human ambition.
So how do we get it?
The religious person will suggest that love comes from God. But Christianity teaches that God is himself love (1 John 4:8, 16). Love isn’t God. But God is love. So what does it mean for God to be love?
It doesn’t necessarily mean God is simply loving. Judaism and Islam and Mormonism proclaim a God who loves. But when Christians teach that God is himself love, they’re saying that real love itself has its origin and essence in God.
And this cannot be true unless God is a Trinity.
God Is Triune
Think about it: A solitary god cannot be love. He may learn to love. He may yearn for love. But he cannot in himself be love, since love requires an object. Real love requires relationship. In the doctrine of the Trinity we finally see how love is part of the fabric of creation; it’s essential to the eternal, need-nothing Creator. From eternity past, the Father and the Son and the Spirit have been in community, in relationship. They have loved each other. That loving relationship is bound up in the very nature of God himself.
If God were not a Trinity but merely a solitary divinity, he could neither be love nor be God.
So the Trinity isn’t some weird religious aberration Christians have stupidly clung to. It’s the answer to the deepest longing of the human heart. The Trinity answers history’s oldest desire. It even clarifies the question. It makes us go deeper than sentimental notions and ethereal feelings and elusive emotions. It puts us on solid ground with all this love stuff we’ve been chasing forever. We’re all looking for love. Deep down we all need it in ways we don’t understand or even acknowledge. We search and search. We find glimpses, moments, tastes, and samples of love. We have genuine experiences of love. And yet nothing quite gets us outside of our own hurts, our own self-interest, our own sins. We need the realest love there is.
“Greater love has no one than this,” Jesus said, “that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Sacrificial love is the ultimate love. Now imagine that the One who is Love himself sacrificed himself. Imagine that the eternal loving fellowship of the divine community sent out one of their own to die not just for their friends but for enemies. Why would this loving fellowship do this? To make the enemies friends, of course.
And this is precisely what God has done. The second person of the Trinity, the Son of God, takes on flesh and comes to die, that he who is true Love might show true love and give true love and transform by true love. That we might finally know true love. It’s for this reason Fred Sanders declares, “Trinity and the gospel have the same shape! This is because the good news of salvation is ultimately that God opens his Trinitarian life to us.”
This is the hope of all mankind—that the “fusty doctrine” of the Trinity would “come to life” by swallowing us up into the love God has enjoyed since before time began. C. S. Lewis, himself once an atheist, was right: “The thing that matters is being actually drawn into that three-personal life.”
And when somebody trusts in the Jesus of Christianity, they are.
Editors’ note: This excerpt is adapted from Jared Wilson’s new book Unparalleled: How Christianity’s Uniqueness Makes It Compelling (Baker Books, 2016).