Holy Love: Creator

​The first vantage point for developing a hermeneutic of holy love is the Creator.  In the previous post we began our look at God through the core attribute of love.  There are multiple words for love in Hebrew and Greek, but in relation to God the words hesed and agapé are central.

Hesed is the Hebrew word.  It is the word used to describe the loving relationship between God and human beings, and between humans.  It tells us that the phrase “God is love” is more than a concept, it is a communion.  It is a relationship which reveals that God is loyal, kind, and merciful.  Hesed is the love between God and the people of God, spelled out in the Covenant, which we will look at in a future post. It is the revelation that God’s love is steadfast, unfailing, and never-ending.

Beyond these indications of God’s nature and relationship, hesed describes the rule of God—one that is loving in its essence, not legal.  Restorative, not retributive.  It is gracious love; that is, God will continue to love us even when we do not love God.  Hesed is love that redeems and renews—the love that inspires wonder in us that leads to worship. [1]

Agapé is the Greek word.  It includes everything just noted about hesed.  It is the word used to describe the core of God’s nature in the Septuagint and in the New Testament.  It is also the love God has shed abroad in our hearts enabling us to love God and others. 

Some of you will know that agapé is one of four Greek words for love. It seems to have been the word chosen to best describe the love of God because agapé is not love for one’s own sake, but rather for the sake of the other.  The other loves (eros, philéo, and storgé) ebb and flow depending on the loveability of the other and the love response we receive from the other.  Agapé does not fluctuate because it is not determined conditionally.  God loves because God is love. God is love itself, and God’s being determines God’s behavior, described in relation to Christ as the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 12:8).  Unchanging.  What the hymnwriter meant by, “O Love, that will not let me go.”

 Agapé is rooted in the will of the lover, which in God’s case is the will to love the world (John 3:16)—which means everyone.  It is universal, sacrificial, gracious, merciful, forgiving, strengthening, outgoing, and redeeming.  It is the atmosphere in which we live, move, and have our being.  And as with hesed,  it is the love which defines our worshipful response and our loving service. [2]

Our theology of human sexuality begins, continues, and end in the words, “God is love”—love as revealed in hesed  and agapé.  God loves everyone.  God loves everyone the same.  There is no “other” (lesser) love because there are no “others” (less thans) to be loved differently.  God loves all. All means all.


(1) How do the words “God is love” enter into you?

(2) How do the words ”God is love” pass out of you to others?

[1] This description of hesed is adapted from William Mounce’s ‘Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words’ (Zondervan, 2006),  426-427.

[2] This description of agapé is adapted from Mounce’s dictionary and from William Barclay’s ‘New Testament Words’ (SCM Press, 1964), 17-30.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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