God doesn't have to love you, you know.
That's probably the opposite of everything you've heard from every pulpit you've ever listened to. You've probably heard something more like, "God loves you. He has to. Because God is love and He can't not." It's a tremendous comfort to a sinful people, that God continues to love us despite our brokenness. But it's not because He has to.
There are a couple of supporting arguments for this. The weaker of the two is from the Creation story, which tells us that God created man in His image. Which means that if man can choose not to love, then God can choose not to love. Where else could man have come upon this choice? The serpent did not contort the very creation of man; the ability to choose against God, to choose against love, was inside man from the beginning, from the first breath of God into his lungs.
And while it's true that this is a valid argument and that God can do anything man can do, including doubt, question, regret, lie, and choose against love (among many others), and that we have seen God do such things (He regretted making creation at all, then He regretted destroying it, for example), it's dangerous to start thinking that our inherent weaknesses are just as possible for God. This means that God is just a better version of ourselves and, in theory, if we could just become better men, we could become gods.
We kind of already think this, don't we?
But that's not my argument at all. God is not simply a better version of you and me; He is the perfection of you and me. And we have no hope, without Him, of ever being perfect so we might as well give up our god complexes and accept that even if it seems just a step away to be equal with Him, our stride is never that big. We can't get there. My point in raising this at all is simply this: if man is made in God's image and man can choose not to love, then God, who is the image perfected, must also be able to choose against love.
Which leads straight into the stronger of the two arguments and one that could really stand on its own: God has to be able to choose against love or He doesn't really love you at all.
We use a version of this argument ourselves, particularly when we're trying to figure out things like good and evil, righteous and wicked, yes and no. Why doesn't God just make it so we have to love Him? Why does He allow people to go against His will and against what He wants, what He plans? And we always come back to this: if we had to obey Him, we wouldn't love Him. If we were forced to love Him, it would be simple duty and not true love.
The same is true from God's side.
If in fact the words we use to comfort our sinful selves are correct and God has to love us, then God in fact does not love us at all. We are not His children; we are His duty. We are not His joy; we are His burden. He has no conceptualization of us in His heart. He can't. He can only consider what He must do as a manifestation of His "love," without considering why. The why is irrelevant now.
Do you get all warm and fuzzy being God's obedience? Does it make you tingle inside to be His duty?
God doesn't feel so loving when it's not really love, huh?
But if God loves you, and I promise you He does, it's because every moment, He chooses to love you. Again and again and again, He chooses love. Over and over and over, every day, every hour, every second, every breath, God chooses all over again to love you.
This is the love we've come to know, and to expect, from Him. It's the kind of love that paints the colors of the sunset just for you, just to see you smile. A love that shows up unexpectedly with your favorite things, just to remind you how special you are. A love that kind of melts into the quiet times yet remains poised to stand firm when trials come. A love that takes into account the kind of day you've been having. A love that just wants to hear you giggle, watch you laugh, hold you close. A love that expects nothing in return because it can't. It can't expect anything because it knows that love is not an obligation. It can't be.
Yes, it's the love we've come to know, and to expect, from God. But let's not forget He doesn't have to love us. He doesn't have to love you.
He chooses to.
That's what makes it love.