To me, the statement that “God is Love” can evoke a person who stands close by through thick and thin, the friend who doesn’t run away when you have to go to the hospital, or when you make a big mistake. The one who doesn’t mind that you have faults, that you get cranky sometimes, or feel overwhelmed by the problems of the world. The friend who doesn’t mind when you get into a controlling mood, but just shakes you a little, and says, “relax.”
For many people, the image of a God who loves us unconditionally like a father or a friend is very powerful. We imagine God as a person because we are persons, and it can help us to relate to that God; we model it on our closest human connections. That is one way of understanding the idea that God is love. But for other people, that image of a person doesn’t work. To say that God is love means that God does not have to be imagined as a person who loves us. God can be understood as the very flow and energy of love itself: that energy that moves between people and connects us and empowers us.
Ultimately, it matters less how or if we imagine God, and it matters more how we are living our lives—if we are living in love, then God is inside our very living. And there doesn’t have to be just one image or one story—we might ask instead what does it mean that Love is at the center of the universe?
Of course, love is another one of those overused words that become hard to really understand. Love is based on the essential connections between people, and the sacredness within people. When we love someone we see the beauty in them, the gift of their being, and we know that it matters to us that they are alive. When we are loved by someone, we feel the beauty in ourselves, the gift of our own being, reflected in our connection to another. We feel seen. We feel alive in relationship to others.
Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed says that “the great insight of Universalism is that you cannot coerce people into loving one another.” He says,
No one has ever or will ever draw true love out of another with punishment. God’s love is given to all and is a more positive force for good than fear ever will be. Behind this is a simple truth: in being loved we learn to love. Those who are loved will in turn love others. Those who feel God’s infinite love within themselves will in turn feel so good about themselves, so connected to life and so full of compassion that they will not be able to help but to spread that love for they will overflow with it.
There is a traditional Quaker hymn that says “Love is Lord in heaven and earth.” Love wins. Universalism was called the gospel of success. When the Universalists opened the doors to heaven, that led the way to opening the doors here on earth. Over time they opened up their churches to expanding ideas of religion—they began to see that there must be wisdom and truth and holiness in all religions, and they reached out to learn from others. They were open to the wisdom of science and the blessing of nature. Where ever love was, that was holiness and truth.