Our most fundamental inclination as fallen human creatures is to exchange the truth that God reveals about Himself for a lie, and to serve and worship the creature rather than the Creator (Romans 1:18-32). We commit idolatry every time we substitute a lesser concept for His glory, whether that substitution takes the crass form of stone gods or the more sophisticated form of redefining God’s character to suit our tastes. A god stripped of justice, of holiness, of sovereignty, and the rest is as much an idol as a statue of wood or stone. We must be careful not to substitute for the biblical God a god who is exhausted in his character by the one attribute of love, especially as popular culture defines it.
As Christians we believe in a God who is simple and not made up of parts. God is not one part sovereign, one part just, one part immutable, one part omniscient, one part eternal, and one part loving. Rather, He is all of His attributes at all times. To understand any single attribute, we must understand it in relation to all His other attributes. The love of God is eternal and sovereign. The love of God is immutable and holy. We treat all of His other attributes in the same way. God’s justice is loving and eternal. His holiness is loving and omniscient. Our concept of the love of God will stay on track only as we understand His love in relationship to His other attributes.
Whatever else God’s love is, it is holy. His love is therefore characterized by the qualities that define holiness—transcendence and purity. First, God’s love is transcendent. It is set apart and different from everything we experience in creation. Second, God’s love is pure. His love is absolutely flawless, having no selfishness, wickedness, or sin mixed in with it. God’s love is not ordinary or profane. It is a majestic, sacred love that goes far beyond anything creatures can manifest. No shadow of evil covers the brightness of the pure glory of the love of God.
The love of God is in a class by itself. It transcends our experience. Nevertheless, it is a love that He shares in part with us and expects us to manifest to each other. He grants to His people—insofar as is possible given the Creator-creature distinction—His holy love (Romans 5:5).