the fundamental attribute of God

What would you say is the fundamental attribute of God (attribute being an aspect of his character and person)?

I think historically it has been God’s holiness.  Not a few theologians have thought this to be the case, especially given Isa 6:3 and Rev 4:8.  Note that the angels did not sing “good good good” or “gracious gracious gracious” or “peace, peace, peace” is the Lord God Almighty..”

But I was reading through my copy of Stanely Grenz’ Theology for the Community of God (Eerdmans, 1994) and he notes the fundamental attribute of God as his love.  He writes:

GrenzIn that God is love apart from the creation of the world, love characterizes God.  Love is the eternal essense of the one God.  But this means that trinitarian love is not merely one attribute of God among many.  Rather, love is the fundamental “attribute” of God.  “God is love,” is the foundational ontological statement we can declare concerning the divine essence.  God is foundationally the mutuality of the love relationship beween the Father and Son, and this personal love is the Holy Spirit.”

Because throughout eternity and apart from the world the one God is love, the God who is love cannot but respond to the world in accordance to his own eternal essence, which is love.  Thus, this essential characteristic of God likewise describes the way God interacts with his world.  “Love,” therefore, is not only the description of he ternal God himself, it is likewise the fundamental characteristic of God in relationship with creation (72).

He goes on to note attempts to put God’s holiness as a primary attribute were to defend his wrath and judgement – but to be honest, I didn’t necessarily see it that way.  I tend to think that the holiness of God highlights his transcendance over and above the world and his separateness from it than it does emphasize his wrath and judgement.  Therefore, because he is holy, in that he is separate from and above the things of the world – he is pure light and truth and love and so on.  But perhaps I am missing something? 

What say you?


16 responses to “the fundamental attribute of God

  1. God’s love is itself our judgement and his holiness. How else can one react to such unbounded non-contingent grace but be shamed by the lack in oneself.

  2. Love was the first thing that came to mind for me. I don’t know that I’d call love an attribute though. In any event, the irony in Grenz saying: “God is foundationally the mutuality of the love relationship beween the Father and Son, and this personal love is the Holy Spirit,” is that such a statement tends to depersonalize the Spirit!

  3. I would say love.

    You said, “Therefore, because he is holy, in that he is separate from and above the things of the world – he is pure light and truth and love and so on.”

    One of the reasons I don’t see holiness as the fundamental attribute (or whatever you want to call it) is because if there were nothing but the Triune God what would God be holy in comparison to? What would God be separate from?

    Bryan L

  4. Brian, I’m reading Merrill’s “Everlasting Dominion,” and he says that “the holiness of God” is his primary attribute.

    I believe Scripture attests to this. For example, the cultus of Israel is a result of this fact.

  5. Does God have to have a primary attribute? God’s attributes are almost never given in abstract ways but as descriptions of his actions. I am not sure if I would say the Bible describes a primary attribute of God, but maybe the primary description of Him in text is that He is a God who saves.

  6. You think like a mere mortal. We cannot even grasp the concept of God. God IS love. God IS holy. He IS the GREAT I AM. He isn’t separate parts – He is Omni, every thing and every where eternally – never changing. How can anything in the Great I AM be qualified or quantified as greater or lesser???

  7. If I had to pick a most fundamental attribute I would choose Holiness, but I would also admit that even raising the question reveals our western compartmentalized thinking (of which I a definitely a product of! :). None of God’s attributes act in distinction from another. That is, while God is expressing his anger, he has not ceased to be loving, or good. Likewise, while he is showing compassion his righteousness is not absent but perfectly harmonized. God is never at conflict with Himself. All that to say, It is never God’s Holiness as opposed to His love or goodness, but in harmony with it. I like what A.W. Pink said, “God does not do good things, the things God does are good.” We break God down into pieces to try to begin understanding Him, but we must always keep in mind, He doesn’t exist or function in pieces but in seemingly incomprehensible unity. those are my 2 cents anyway, thanks for the post, found it while browsing for info on a paper.

  8. I believe there was holding this before I even read your article however your point it’s convincing and I hold the same position. I wrote similar on my site:

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