The Heart of It All: The Nature and Character of God

May 1, 2012

by Peter Amsterdam

God’s Love

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(For an introduction and explanation regarding this series overall, please see The Heart of It All: Introduction.)

In earlier articles I’ve written about different attributes of God, including holiness, righteousness, justice, wrath, mercy, patience, and grace. Now we move on to God’s love. One of the best-loved Bible verses is 1 John 4:8, which states that “God is love.” And He is. This fact is seen over and over again throughout Scripture, and is clearly manifest to those who know and love Him. His love is seen in many ways in our personal lives so that we can, from our experience, say that God is love. Of course, love is not all that God is. God is each of those attributes that are His nature and character.

God’s love is seen in the triune nature of God. God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are love, and they love one another. Jesus spoke of the Father’s love for Him and His love for the Father.

Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, may be with Me where I am, to see My glory that You have given Me because You loved Me before the foundation of the world.[1]

A voice from heaven said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”[2]

As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Abide in My love.[3]

I do as the Father has commanded Me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. [4]

While there are no specific verses referring to the Father and Son loving the Holy Spirit, it can be inferred. Scripture does speak of the love of the Spirit.

I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf.[5]

When commenting on the love which exists within the Trinity, Ravi Zacharias offers the following insight:

If God ever says He loves, who was He loving before the creation? If God says He speaks, who was He speaking to before the creation? So communication and affection, or love, is contained in the Godhead right from the beginning … you see the love expressed within the concept of the Trinity, and Jesus’ prayer is that you and I would be one, even as He and the Father are one.[6]

God’s Care and Provision

One aspect of God’s love is His concern and care for His creation—His divine goodness toward all living things.

The Lord is good to all, and His mercy is over all that He has made. The eyes of all look to You, and You give them their food in due season. You open Your hand; You satisfy the desire of every living thing.[7]

God’s love extends to every human. Ever since He created human beings, He has loved them. No matter where they stand relationally with Him, He loves them. They may not believe He exists; they may believe He exists but hate Him; they may want nothing to do with Him; but nevertheless, He loves them. His love, kindness, and care are given to them by virtue of their being part of humanity. Human beings were created in God’s image. He loves every single one of us, and His love for us translates into loving action on His part—His care and blessings given to humankind.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” ... So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.[8]

Male and female He created them, and He blessed them and named them Man when they were created.[9]

God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”[10]

The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, shall bless us.[11]

You visit the earth and water it; You greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water; You provide their grain, for so You have prepared it. You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers, and blessing its growth. You crown the year with Your bounty; Your wagon tracks overflow with abundance. The pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy, the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy.[12]

When Jesus told His disciples to love their enemies, He said that in doing so they would be imitating God’s love, for God shows love to and is kind to all, even the ungrateful and the evil. He makes His sun rise and the rain to fall on everyone. God’s love and His loving actions are extended to all people, no matter what their moral standard.

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.[13]

Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.[14]

Jesus also expressed God’s love toward everyone when He made the point that if God takes care of the birds of the air and the grass of the field, certainly He will care for people, as they have more value than the birds.

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? [15]

Paul, when speaking to the Greeks, made the point this way:

In past generations He allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. Yet He did not leave Himself without witness, for He did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.[16]

God’s Love Manifest Through Salvation

God’s love for all humankind is most clearly seen in His answer to humanity’s need for salvation. Every human is a sinner and in need of redemption in order to be reconciled to God. God, because of His love for each human being, brought forth the plan of salvation by which God the Son came to earth, lived a sinless life, and died, taking our sins upon Himself, thus making atonement for us. This means that humans can now be reconciled to God, no matter who they are or what sins they’ve committed. Jesus sacrificed His life for everyone, so salvation is available for all who accept it. He did this because of His love for all people, for the whole world.

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.[17]

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.[18]

He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.[19]

God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.[20]

We can see from the above that God loves and cares for all of humanity, that He has concern for us, and that He takes action to care for us physically through His provision as well as spiritually through salvation. He has borne the full weight of our punishment, even though we all are sinners. Through Jesus’ death on the cross, we can see that God’s love is self-giving love. It is God’s nature to give of Himself in order to bring about blessing or good for others.

There can be some difficulty understanding God’s love for all of humanity in relation to God’s wrath or righteous judgment of sin and evil-doing. God’s love can be seen in His patience with humanity, in His being slow to anger, in His longing for people to receive His gift of salvation and giving them time to do so. God postpones deserved judgment as a result of His love. He patiently restrains His wrath because of His deep love for those He created in His image. Theologian Jack Cotrell puts it this way:

If God determined to give us what we deserve as soon as we deserve it, we would all have perished long ago. It is His loving patience that puts the punishment “on hold” until it is either set aside (with regard to the one who deserves it) or ultimately applied.[21]

The reason for God’s patient delay in bringing judgment for sin is to give people time to repent, to receive salvation, and by doing so avoid God’s judgment or wrath. It is God’s nature to give people time to choose redemption. He doesn’t wish for anyone to perish, and His patience gives people time to receive His redemptive love through Jesus Christ.

Do you presume on the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?[22]

The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.[23]

Count the patience of our Lord as salvation.[24]

God in His love has made a way that people can avoid the just punishment for sin and be reconciled to Him in a loving relationship. He sent a substitute, His Son, to take that punishment for humanity. He doesn’t pour out His judgment and wrath on the sinner because He has taken it upon Himself in Jesus. All that is left is for individuals to believe it, and if they do, their sins are forgiven, atoned for. That’s God’s love, His gift to humankind. He makes forgiveness of sins possible through His self-giving love. He laid down His life so that people could be reconciled with Him. He doesn’t force them to accept His gift, because He has given them free will, but in His love He patiently waits, longing for all to accept it.

Those of us who have received salvation feel God’s love in additional ways. We have become His children. We will live with Him forever. The relationship we have with Him after salvation is different, more personal, than what we had before. We commune with Him, we grow closer to Him, we get to know Him better. His Spirit abides in us. We feel His love in ways that only those who know and love Him can. As His children, our job is to share the good news of His love with as many as we can, to invite them to become His children and the heirs of His blessings along with us.

You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirsheirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.[25]


Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Other versions cited are The New International Version (NIV), the New American Standard Bible (NASB), The New Revised Standard Version (NRS), The New King James Version (NKJV), and the King James Version (KJV).

[1] John 17:24.

[2] Matthew 3:17.

[3] John 15:9.

[4] John 14:31.

[5] Romans 15:30.

[6] Ravi Zacharias, Ravi Zacharias Explains the Trinity, 2005.

[7] Psalm 145:9, 15–16.

[8] Genesis 1:26–27.

[9] Genesis 5:2.

[10] Genesis 1:28.

[11] Psalm 67:6.

[12] Psalm 65:9–13.

[13] Matthew 5:43–45.

[14] Luke 6:35–36.

[15] Matthew 6:26–30.

[16] Acts 14:16–17.

[17] John 3:16.

[18] 1 John 4:10.

[19] 1 John 2:2.

[20] Romans 5:8.

[21] Jack Cotrell, What the Bible Says About God the Redeemer (Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1983), p. 358.

[22] Romans 2:4.

[23] 2 Peter 3:9.

[24] 2 Peter 3:15.

[25] Romans 8:15–17.