Divine Love Is More Than An Attribute – by Steve McVey

There are a couple of blogs that are “must-reads” for me.  Of this small list, Steve McVey (from GraceWalk Ministries) is at the top of the list.  You’ve seen me quote Steve on occassion, but today I am doing something completely out-of-the ordinary.  I am reposting an entire post from his popular blog.  It speaks clearly to me about what I have been thinking and preaching about lately concerning the nature/character of God.

I was taught (and have taught in the past)  that LOVE is only one aspect of God’s nature – God’s character.  I have been taught (and taught in the past) that God’s love is “kept in check” or “tempered” by others aspects of God’s nature (things like ‘justice’ or ‘holiness’).   That just doesn’t seem biblical to me.  Don’t misunderstand, I believe that God is holy and just.  It seems to me, however, that biblically these “attributes” are expressions of the love of God, not something that “keeps God’s love in check.” 

If you see the self-revelation of God as Holy Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) as relational/loving being, as folks like Steve and I do AND if you see Jesus as the perfect picture of what the Father is like (as Jesus claims to be) AND if you believe that Jesus and the Father send the Holy Spirit to bear witness to us about God (as Jesus claims) THEN you must accept that LOVE is not just a part of who God is.  Rather (as 1 John 4:8 says) GOD IS LOVE. 

Read what Steve writes and share what you think.  Steve’s blog begins now:


When the Bible says that, “God is love” (1 John 4:8), how are we to understand that verse? Does the statement speak to the core essence of who He is? Are there other aspects of His nature that need to be seen in balance with the reality of His love?

Some say that to teach about the love of God the way I do does a disservice in presenting His nature by suggesting that Agape is the defining factor of everything that can be known about Him. They argue that God has other aspects of His nature that must be seen in balance with His love. They particularly point to His justice and wrath as examples. Critics contend that by focusing on His love to such an extent presents a lopsided view of the totality of who He is. I believe that the opposite viewpoint causes the very problem they suggest others create. Those who attempt to align justice, wrath or any other divine qualities alongside His love as separate but equal realities malign His true nature.

Think of it like this: Imagine a pie to be used as an object lesson to illustrate God’s nature. How would you show the place His love, justice and wrath holds within His nature? Would you show a division in the pie with three equal pieces, each showing the respective aspects of His essence? Or would you have a very large piece of the pie reveal His love and two smaller pieces show the place justice and wrath hold within His being? How would you divide the love, justice and wrath of God?

The fact is that such a division doesn’t exist within the divine nature. Instead, it is the pie-crust that is the love of God and that every other aspect of His nature could be seen as a piece of the pie. In other words, God’s justice and wrath must be understood as a part of His love. Otherwise, God is part love and part other characteristics.

To suggest that focusing exclusively on the love of God as the totality of His being leaves out something is to insult Divine Agape. God is love. Love is more than an attribute of God. It’s His ontological makeup. God is just, but justice is simply an expression of His love. God expresses wrath but wrath too is an expression of His love. Everything that can be known of Him must be seen through the lens of agape or we end up presenting a god with a multiple personality.

Is there a side to God that is not love? Can we argue that divine wrath is something separate from agape? Does divine justice come from a place within God where love does not preside? Is God love and something else?

The problem comes with the contemporary use of these words that are based on our flawed concept of a judicial god who is a courtroom judge that demands the books be balanced and that somebody be punished for the wrong that was done. Like Adam in The Garden, we have superimposed our own distorted, legalistic (literally) mindset onto the God who has done nothing but reveal Himself through Jesus Christ as the One who loves us and would never act in any way that contradicts that reality.

The pervasive human understanding of justice couldn’t be further from what the Bible teaches about divine justice. The human view is that a wrong was done and somebody must be punished for it, but that isn’t at all what the Bible tells us about Justice seen through the lens of agape.

Biblically, to “bring justice” does not mean to bring punishment but to bring healing and reconciliation. Justice means to make things right. All through the prophetic books of the Bible, justice is associated with caring for others, as something that is not in conflict with mercy, but rather an expression of it. Divine justice is God’s saving action at work for all that are oppressed, making things right for everybody. Consider these texts:

Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow (Isaiah 1:17).

This is what the LORD says: “`Administer justice every morning; rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed (Jeremiah 21:12).

The way that we “administer justice”, the Prophets tell us, is by encouraging and helping the oppressed. In contrast to what we may have been taught, God’s justice is not in conflict with his mercy, they are inseparable. True justice can only come though mercy.

This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Administer true justice: show mercy and compassion to one another” (Zechariah 7:9).

Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice ( Isaiah 30:18).

If we want to understand the concept of divine justice as the Bible reveals, then we must see it as a “setting things right again.” It’s not retribution that makes things right, but restoration. That is the heart of our Father.

What about wrath? The Greek word is orge and, while the word is often used to refer to anger, it can refer to any violent emotion, not just anger. It is “an agitation of the soul” and can even mean, “love.” If our starting point in understanding the use of the word in the Bible is a concept of a God who is angry about sin and wants somebody to pay, of course, we will automatically see wrath as an expression of anger. On the other hand, if our starting place in understanding a text is that God is love, then we know we haven’t reached the pure meaning of the verse if it contradicts love. Will God ever act in a way that contradicts love? Is His essence pure love? Can pure love ever express anything that stands in contradiction to Pure Love? If it can, then the love was never pure from the start. Pure water has nothing else in it that would contaminate it or alter it at all. Neither does Pure Love.

If our concept of God is that He is One who insists on punishment for wrong doing, how can we possibly argue that we don’t envision a legalistic (i.e. courtroom, gavel wielding, verdict pronouncing, sentence imposing) God? He is not an impartial judge. He can’t be because, to the contrary, He is a God who is very biased in our favor. That’s what grace means.

Is there punishment for sin? Of course there is, but it is sin that punishes, not God. The wages of sin is death but Jesus has come “so that you might have life and have it more abundantly.”

Our God is Love. Not love plus something else. Just Love. Everything else that can be said about Him must be framed inside that reality.

Leave a Reply