God made us to love us

God made us to love us February 24, 2011
God made us to love us
kelsey_lovefusionphoto, Flickr

Why did God make us? When you look how the ancient writers of the Church thought about that question the answer might surprise. It’s the same reason he saved us: love. God made us to love us.

The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit live in a relationship of eternal and mutual love. But, as fourth-century theologian Gregory Nazianzen observes, it is the nature of love to seek objects to love. For an uncreated God, that means it is natural to create. “Good must be poured out and go forth,” said Gregory, beyond the Holy Trinity itself, “to multiply the objects of Its beneficence….”

Gregory considers this loving generosity “essential to” or characteristic of “the highest Goodness.” We know from the testimony of Scripture that God is love. His every action flows from that fact of his nature, including creation. And so, he says, God “first conceived the Heavenly and Angelic Powers. And this conception was a work fulfilled by His Word, and perfected by His Spirit.”

But he didn’t stop with angels. “[W]hen His first creation was in good order, He conceive[d] a second world, material and visible….” And so he created earth and us, objects of God’s beneficence.

Other ancient Christian writers echo this explanation. John Damascene, for instance, says that “in His exceeding goodness” God “wished certain things to come into existence which would enjoy His benefits and share in His goodness, [so] He brought all things out of nothing into being and created them, both what is invisible [such as the angels] and what is visible [such as ourselves].”

This is an exciting truth: God made us to bless us, to love us. Sometimes we assume that we were created to serve, love, and worship him. These are good and holy actions, but they are responses to God’s initiating act of love. He did not require service, love, and worship, and so created servants, lover, and worshippers. God’s only requirement is to be himself, to love. We are born—all things are born—from that divine desire.

Icons of the creation make this point vividly. Whether the scene is one of speaking light into existence, or calling forth the birds and fish, or breathing the breath of life into Adam, Christ is depicted as creator with his hand outstretched in the sign of the cross, the sign of blessing, indicating that the very act of creation is one of grace and love.

This perspective has powerful implications for Christian life.

Love, says a much more recent writer, Fr. Michael Nasser of Holy Apostles Orthodox Christian Mission of Bowling Green, Kentucky, “isn’t only why He made us; it is also how He made us. He made us to be able to receive His love. And when we do … we respond by living as we were made to live: like Him.”

Nasser’s point is that we become what we receive. In that sense, he says, our one calling as Christians is to uniquely express God’s love in the particular location, family, occupation, job, school that God has placed us.

As we grow in Christ we grow in love and our ability to express that love to others. That’s who Christ is; that’s what motivated not only his saving action at the cross, but also our very origins. As we grow in Christ’s love, we do with it what is only natural — what he does — we extend it, spread it, and share it. All because he first loved us.

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  • I have never considered that “God made us to bless us, to love us”…. as you have so eloquently put it. We so often get caught up in what we are meant to be doing… in our responses to Him and not in acknowledging His love for us. Thank you for this thought piece, a great thought to ponder.

  • I agree with you Joel. If we do not find our identity in the love God has twoards us, then we will always be presenting a false self instead of our true selves. We cannot fully express love towards others until we accept and surrender ourselves to God’s love for us.

  • I think I just finally tossed out my Westminster Shorter Catechism. Thanks, Joel.

    The clincher is your last sentence. I should have seen that a long time ago.

    *walks away humming “Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us…”*

    • I love humming that song! And probably for the same reason.

  • Pairing with Rumer Godden, she says, “Nowadays there is tendency to make everything utilitarian-even the things of the spirit. Beware of this, That wasn’t the way of the saints. They didn’t set out to be of use.”

    “When you have become God’s in the measure He wants, He, Himself, will know how to bestow you on others,” quoting St. Basil. “Unless He prefer, for thy greater advantage, to keep thee all to Himself”

    “That does happen to a few people. Yet, paradoxically, they have the greatest influence.”

    ~House of Brede

  • Joel, you’ve made some excellent points, but I venture to say you may have stopped too soon.
    Yes, God made us to love us…but the ultimate reason for making us and loving us is to glorify Himself (Isaiah 43:7). Otherwise it’s easy to see ourselves as the center of the universe instead of God.
    Thank you for the beautiful reminder of God’s lavish love for us. What a privilege to know that He made us for His glory and He loves us for His glory. It doesn’t get any better than that!

    • I agree with your points more than with Joel’s. I think we have focused too much in God loving us that it has become all about us–seen in the contemporary Christian songs we sing, in the books written, in the reflections on blogs.

      This article makes us look too much at ourselves, and too little on God, making it too convenient to forget that He created us for His glory.

      • Molly,

        Please see my response to Ava. I hope it clarifies somethings.

        I think it’s a terrible moment when we can say that we focus too much on God’s love for us. If people are selfish or immature, that’s the concern — not that we focus too much on love. The issue is that people have a distorted view of love. We should disclaim that, not a focus on love.

        Much of the music you mention is terrible stuff. But not because it focuses on love. It presents a false picture of love. In many cases it’s emotional enthusiasm, not love.

        I hope we can focus on the real malady, rather than hold back on discussing what God reveals of himself — that he is love.

    • Ava,

      Thank you for your note, and I hear your concern. A few thoughts:

      (1) I believe wholeheartedly that we are to glorify, love, and serve God, but I think, as I said above, that these are responses to God’s glory, love, and service. He ministers to us and we minister in return. He initiates, we respond.

      (2) I think we do something awful to our perception of the character of God if we lose track of this order. We know from Scripture that God is love; we also know from Scripture that love is not self-seeking. If we insist on suggesting that God created us to love him, then we are in danger of imagining a God who is fundamentally self-seeking, whose interest in creating us is his own good. I don’t see how that squares with what we know about God.

      (3) This may seem a bit more pedantic — apologies in advance: I don’t think Isaiah 43:7 makes the point that we are created to glorify God quite so clearly. Many translations (KJV, RSV, ESV, etc.) say that we are created “for” God’s glory, but I think that’s as far as you can get. Note that the text does not say that we were created to glorify him, merely for his glory. God is glorious, so it makes sense that the things he does reflect his glory, including the creation of man — that’s what I get from the text. I think that point is confirmed by the Septuagint and its translations, which says that God created us “in” his glory, not “for” (see the OSB, NETS, etc.; here’s a PDF of the NETS translation for your review).

      (4) I don’t think this view allows us to see ourselves as the center of the universe. God is the center, the very source of being, the very source of love. I conclude the piece above by saying that we imitate God, that we imitate Christ, as we grow in love, we share it. Love is other-focused, not self-focused. So a fuller understanding of (and acting upon) this view helps us see that we are not the center.

      Many thanks,


      • Your comments certainly make me examine my beliefs!
        Still, if you would humor me with a few more thoughts…

        1. I agree with your point #1. God initiates, we respond. (Glad we can agree on this!)

        2. While humans can be self-seeking, God is not (we can agree on that!). However, Scripture abounds with references to God acting for the sake of His name and for His glory. I don’t see this as self-seeking at all. If God doesn’t act for His own glory, who else should be receiving the glory? Since there is no one else, it’s not self-seeking, it’s just…the way it should be! 🙂

        3. I agree with your point #3 – little words do mean a lot in Scripture. Still, whether we’re reflecting His glory or glorifying Him through direct action, the object and recipient of glory is still Him!

        4. I agree completely with point #4! 🙂

        Loved this discussion, Joel. Thanks for the opportunity to think about not just what we believe, but why we believe it!

  • Hi, Joel! Just to take the discussion a little further–God’s love is absolute and it is greater than any evil that is in the world. I believe the human race is on the verge of knowing and understanding the power of God’s absolute love and of fully manifesting that same love in our world. In John 10:10, Christ stated that he came that we might have the life that is more abundant than the loss, death, and destruction that the kingdom of evil (the thief) is trying to devastate our world with. Christ and the life he came to give us are the full manifestation of God’s absolute love.

  • Great post and conversation! I was reminded of the beginning to Lewis’ Weight of Glory: if you asked 20 men what the highest virtue was 19 would say “self-less-ness”…but if you asked almost any of the great Christians of old they would have said “love.”

    Good to hear it said from those “great Christians of old” Thanks, Joel!

  • Hi, Joel, here’s a link that explains my comments and responds to you even better than I can.
    Thanks again for a great conversation!

  • Great resource on God made us to love us. This is my favorite post you have done!