Is Love God’s Main Attribute?

“Unequal weights are an abomination to the Lord,” Proverbs tells us (20:10, 23). And this is no less true when it comes to theology. When we give more weight to God’s love then to His other attributes we are not correctly representing who He is. We are being deceiving. Deceit when it comes to earthly treasure is an abomination. How much greater an abomination when He that is infinitely worthy is falsely treated?!

God’s attributes must not be incorrectly understood. The Bible does clearly teach that God is a God of love (e.g. 1 Jn. 4:8) and continued faithfulness or covenant loyalty (Ex. 34:7; Num. 14:18; Deut. 7:9; Ps. 86:15; 119:90; Lam. 3:22-23; Nahum 1:3; 1 Cor. 1:9; 2 Thess. 3:3; Heb. 10:23). However, the Bible also clearly and repeatedly teaches that God is a God of righteous jealousy (Ex. 20:4-6; 34:14; Num. 25:11; Deut. 4:24; 5:8-10; 6:15; 29:20; 32:16, 21; Josh. 24:19-20; 1 Kings 14:22; Is. 42:8; 48:11; Ezek. 8:3-5; 16:38, 42; 23:25; 36:5-7; 38:19; 39:25; Joel 2:18; Nahum 1:2; Zeph. 1:18; 3:8; Zech. 1:14: 8:2; Ps. 78:58; 79:5; 1 Cor. 10:22; James 4:5) and unrestrained wrath (cf. e.g. Is. 13:6-11; Jer. 7:20; Nahum 1:2-8; Matt. 3:12; Rom. 2:5). The Bible clearly shows that God will not clear the guilty that spurn His grace and patience (cf. e.g. Ex. 34:7; Num. 14:18; Deut. 7:9-11; Lam. 3:22-23, 64-66; Nahum 1:3). Further, the Bible never says that love is God’s main attribute or that God has a main attribute. Rather, God is; and He is perfect in all ways. “Attributes,” such as love, wisdom, etc. are anthropological, they are given so that we can understand God. Thus, these attributes should not and cannot be understood when striped from their connection to the whole of who God is.

Also, though God’s attribute of love is clearly and very much on display through the whole of Scripture other attributes, such as God’s holiness (cf. the emphatic “holy, holy, holy” Is. 6:3; Rev. 4:8), could be agued to be God’s central attribute. We also see in different places in Scripture that God pours out judgment on people, clearly not to show His love, but to be glorified (cf. e.g. Ex. 9:13-16, 34-10:2;14:4; 8:13-18; 2 Sam. 24:1, 10-11; 1 Chron. 21:1, 7-8; Is. 6:9-13; Ps. 92:7 [NASB]; Rom. 9:22-24). Actually, we see various times in Scripture that God’s motivation for salvation is His glory (cf. e.g. Ps. 23:3; 25:11; 31:3; Ezek. 36:16-32 [esp. v. 21, 22, 32]; Rom. 9:22-24). James M. Hamilton Jr. persuasively argues that the story of redemption history and the Bible is not about God loving all people without exception but about “God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment” (the title of his book).[1]

The Universalist extrapolation that since God is love He will not finally allow people to be damned eternally in hell is unfounded. Some Universalists have extrapolated that God’s glory is seen in that He has mercy and compassion and thus will display His glory more when He repeals His judgment on sinners in hell (some wrongly cite Ex. 33:19). However, these Universalists incorrectly understand the Exodus passage. Instead, through a closer look at the text we see that “God’s glory and his name consist fundamentally in his propensity to show mercy and his sovereign freedom in its distribution. Or to put it more precisely, it is the glory of God and his essential nature mainly to dispense mercy (but also wrath, Ex 34:7) on whomever he pleases apart from any constraint originating outside his own will. This is the essence of what it means to be God. This is his name”[2] (cf. Rom. 9:6-24).

God does not bow to any of His “attributes” but He is continually perfect in a unison of perfection. Wrath does not hold a place over love or love over wrath, the Son does not fight with the Father nor the Spirit with the Son, God’s Name and ways are always and forever perfect. His Name, who He is, His character, is holy (cf. Lk. 1:49). He is I AM. We do not determine who He is or what He should do. He is. And He is perfect in all His ways.

So, no. I don’t think love is God’s main attribute. 

____________________

[1] See Hamilton’s book length treatment God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology where he goes from Genesis to Revelation to argue his case or see his much smaller article “The Glory of God in Salvation through Judgment: The Centre of Biblical Theology?” in Tyndale Bulletin 57.1 (2006), 57-84. Also Jonathan Edwards argues the same point in The End for Which God Created the World (see John Piper, God’s Passion for His Glory).

[2] John Piper, The Justification of God: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Romans 9:1-23 (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1993), 88-89. Italics his.

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About Paul O'Brien

I am a lot of things; saint and sinner. I struggle and I strive. I am a husband and father of three. I have been in pastoral ministry for 9 years. I went to school at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but most of my schooling has been at the School of Hard Knocks. I have worked various jobs, including pheasant farmer, toilet maker, construction worker, and I served in the military. My wife and I enjoy reading at coffee shops, taking walks, hanging out with friends and family, and watching our three kid's antics. :)

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