Is Love God’s Defining Attribute?

In this video interview with former EPM staff member Julia (Stager) Mayo, we discuss the question: Would you say love is God’s defining attribute?

Randy: Certainly love is a very important attribute of God. God is love, we’re told in 1 John 4:16, so in some senses it is a defining quality of God. However, this does not minimize His other qualities, and that’s the problem: when you start saying (as I’ve heard people say) we must interpret all of God’s attributes in light of His love.

In Isaiah 6:3 what are the angels of God who are in His presence calling out day and night? They are not saying, “Love, love, love is the Lord God Almighty,” but “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.”

Now they could cry out, “love.” I’m not minimizing love at all. I’m all for love. I’m all for God’s love! It’s obviously very important. But that’s not His only attribute.

We must understand that we can’t and shouldn’t define God’s other attributes in such a way as to fit our definition of love. For instance, often we think, “Love means that you approve of people and you’re never unhappy or dissatisfied with them. That’s what it means to love someone. Therefore we must make God into that, because He says He is love.”

God has His definition of love, which is shown in the whole Bible, and it’s in all of His attributes.

Julia: I think it’s dangerous to take just one attribute, like you were saying, and use that to define God. It’s clear throughout Scripture that there are so many attributes. There’s His love and His holiness, and what those attributes have compelled Him to do, such as sacrifice His own Son. A lot of times love can cause pain.

Randy: Exactly. If you truly love someone, you’re looking out for their best interests. However, as you do that, you may be required to do what parents are often required to do: the thing which makes their child unhappy. In other words, the child wants to eat whatever the child wants to eat. He wants to run out on the freeway if he wants to run out on the freeway. He wants to jump into the water, even though he doesn’t know how to swim.

There are many things that children may want their parents to let them do, like watch movie after movie, play game after game, not do their homework, and not got to sleep at a certain time. But part of the parents’ job of lovingly caring for their children is to do things their children do not like. This is totally opposite of the modern definition of love, which says, if you do something to me or say something to me that I don’t like, then I can conclude you’re not being loving.

Well, no. Actually Scripture says we are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). Love is not always comfortable, but love is always right. That’s true for us, and obviously most fundamentally it’s true for God.

Photo by Fadi Xd on Unsplash

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries

Julia (Stager) Mayo holds a Master of Arts in Biblical and Theological Studies from Western Seminary. She was previously part of the Eternal Perspective Ministries staff, and still does occasional research work for Randy Alcorn.