Some theologians divide God’s attributes into incommunicable and communicable attributes. Incommunicable attributes are those associated only with God, which means they cannot be shared by other human beings. These attributes include His self-existence, immutability, infinity, and unity. The communicable attributes describe God’s personal nature, and these may be reflected in His creatures. Among these, love is chief. In 1 John 4:7–16 God is characterized both as the source of love and as its primary example.
God’s love is not mere sentimentality. When 1 John 4:8 speaks of divine love, it describes a fundamental disposition of the divine nature. God does not feel a mere passing affection for us, but is eternally inclined to show love. Love motivated the Father to send the Son into the world (John 3:16). Love was also the reason God showed mercy to us when we were dead in our sins by giving us new life in Christ (Eph. 2:4–5). Those who have experienced grace through Jesus Christ will serve as illustration of God’s kindness for all eternity (Eph. 2:7).
The attribute of love is a necessary complement to God’s attributes of holiness, righteousness, and justice. God’s love disposes Him to show mercy, but His holiness, righteousness, and justice demand a payment for sin. By sending Jesus Christ to suffer in our place as an atoning sacrifice, the Father was able to justify sinners without compromising His justice (Rom. 3:26). While it may help us to understand God by analyzing His attributes individually, it is important not to set the attributes against one another, as if God suffered from a split personality. God’s love does not exist in tension with His holiness. He is both holy and loving, each of these attributes existing in harmony with the other and reflected in His actions toward those He has created.
God’s love is the foundation for all ethical behavior. The love we show to others is both a response to and a reflection of God’s loving nature. We love God because He loved us first. We love others because God so loved us and because He has chosen to demonstrate His love through us. In a sense, our love is always answering love. It is a response to the initiating love of God.
FOR FURTHER READING
To learn more about both God’s love and ours, read The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis (Harcourt).