As Christians, we are probably familiar with the phrase "God is love" (1 John 4:8). This statement is ultimately what separates Christians from other monotheists, the acknowledgement that God is love, precisely because the question becomes "Who does God love?" Remember, God has to remain God, in His perfection and according to His nature, even in the absence of creation--God did not have to create the world. Therefore, though God does love us, God is love even if we didn't exist. This revelation, this mystery of the life of God, is that God is Triune. God is love because, as Archbishop Joseph writes, "God is a community, a family." We believe that God is one, but in that unity is an eternal dance of love between the three Persons of the Trinity. For Raya, this belief is not only the basis for our belief that God is love, but also what radically separates Christian ethics from other religions. He suggests that all religions feature love, but that Christianity uniquely has God instruct us "Love as I have loved you." We are called, then, to love with the total, unconditional love of the Trinity.
Archbishop Joseph identifies four "marks" of love for the Christian:
1) Presence- the first step in love, presence is at its most basic the simple acknowledgement that an "other" exists and a willingness to accept their self-revelation. Theologically, we see this more purely in the Incarnation. While the Jews and other religions knew of God imperfectly, only through God's revelation of Himself to us in the person of Jesus made Him present in such a way as to allow for Him to reveal Himself without intermediary.
2) Communication- what Raya refers to as "giving receiving," we can only love when we love as persons; that is, when we give of ourselves and receive of others. "The giving and accepting of love must be generous, complete, without hesitation or condition, and for ever and ever. The lover accepts the beloved not for what he wants her or him to be but for what he or she is. Christ accepted the sinners as sinners and the sinners became 'holy.' These sinners accepted Christ for what he was in his reality, and they became divine...The Christian religion is a religion of invitation, of appeal, and not of obligation or brutal authority. For this reason it is called a religion of love."
3) Surrender- love becomes surrender when the "giving receiving" becomes perfected. Archbishop Joseph puts it beautifully: "The 'Giver revealer' becomes the whole life and breath of the other. He or she melts into the other, as the other reciprocates this movement with no less generosity...They surrender their own personality, tending and longing for fullness and perfection of union!...Time and space are also completely erased. The lover slows down to God's eternity and one's surrender to the other becomes wealth and joy, saturated with thyme and harmony. This is eternity...His or her self surrender raises the person, by the surrender of the other, to the heights of the Trinity. Like the joy of the Risen Christ, joy comes to light not in the abstract "love of humanity" in general, but in the individual man or woman, in the personal countenance we see and touch, in the 'neighbor's' face." He makes an important point here: we are not told to love humanity as Christians, we are told to love our neighbors. That is, our love for humanity is not "humanism," there is not an abstract quality; we are called to love each person as a person, as a revealed self uniquely existing.
4) Identification- the last step, in which the lovers become one. Again, the Incarnation becomes our best example: because of the Incarnation, God doesn't remain "simply" God, because God became Man. Similarly, after the Incarnation, man isn't just man but is divinized. The popular patristic quote is applicable here: God became Man so that Man might become God. The distinction between the two subjects melts away and there is a new identification: the God-Man and the man-God, as Archbishop Joseph puts it.
1) How does God make Himself present to us today?
2) The love of the Christian is a radical love; what are some of the ways we can demonstrate this personal, unconditional love meaningfully in today's world?