Some are confused or misinformed about this basic teaching. But without it God’s name and character comes in disrepute.
The New Covenant Scriptures says that God’s essential, core attribute is love:
1 John 4:8: “God is love.”
1 John 4:16: “God is love.”
Let’s see why this bedrock, unshakeable truth is so profound and so right. We build the definition as we look at examples.
1. Eternity Past
Before God made the heavens and the earth and angels, he was love—the past tense was is from our human point of view because God is above time.
The wonderful teaching that God is love is rooted in the Christian doctrine of Trinity. Augustine comes up with an analogy that is deep: the lover, the beloved, and love (The Trinity, Books VIII.14; IX.2, and XV.10). Augustine seems to say that the Father loves the Son, who receives his love and returns it, while the Spirit communicates the love between them. This image of a triad of love expresses how Christians believe the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit existed before the creation of time and the universe, and how the three persons will forever exist.
Therefore, in the eternity past, He was Love itself. This is not to say he invented the attributes of judge and warrior, for example, only after he created humans, but he did not apply those attributes in eternity past (until, as some believe, Lucifer fell), since there as no need within the Trinity. But love was always active.
2. Human Present
God made the heavens and earth out of his love. God ordained and sustains his creation out of his love. God ordained that his creation should evolve in such a way that planet earth became habitable for human life. Therefore, God created humankind out of his love.
This love is reflected in the old story about the Garden of Eden, when humans enjoyed intimate relationship with God. He said, out of his love, that the humans could enjoy all that they surveyed. That permission and provision is a loving act. We know what happened afterwards. They blew it.
But out of his love he did not give up on humankind. The rest of God’s love is beautifully expressed in Ps. 103:13-14.
As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.
In other words God sees us “dusty” humans struggling down here on planet earth. He knows how we were formed, and we’re dust—in scientific terms we are mammals. In scientific and Christian terms we are mammals with souls and a sin nature. In his pity and compassion and love he calls all humans to rise above their mammal / sin nature and become fully alive in him.
Out of his love he gave them moral law. Out of his love he gave them reason and conscience so they could perceive moral law. Certain ancient Chinese, Indians, Greeks, Romans and countless others could perceive moral law. He pitied them and wanted them to express love among themselves—to get along and show kindness, to live in peace and love.
Out of his love he revealed himself more particularly to Abraham and the patriarchs and the future Hebrews all the way to Moses. Out of his love he revealed to Moses and subsequently to all of humanity his divine law in the context of the ancient Near East. The divine law as revealed in the Torah improved on various laws in the same area, but it was still too culture-bound, for it is rooted in religious law and rituals.
Still, out of his love he sent prophets to the Israelites to bring them back to his divine law. Out of his love he sent prophets to peoples outside of Israel to communicate more clearly moral law.
However, sometimes human mammals listened too strongly to their mammal / sin nature, and they have to be judged or overthrown. For example, disobeying moral law, they sacrificed humans, particularly children. Bad.
So does God have to be a judge and a warrior with certain humans? Yes, but this is occasional and situational. Judge and warrior is not his essential character. It is a response to human degradation down on earth against those who refuse to submit to his moral and divine law and do bad. They did not fear him (Ps. 103:14) in the sense of obeying moral law, which was an act of love in the first place.
3. The Gospel
By far the greatest expression of his of love was to send his Son into the world, to redeem human-mammals from their “dusty” condition, by imparting his very own Spirit in them, who leads them towards his love. The most famous verse in the whole Bible is John 3:16, which reveals this kind of ultimate love:
This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. (John 3:16 Message Bible)
Though the verse 18 warns people of judgment when they reject God, his essential nature in the gospel is love—for Christ’s love is universal and not bound by cultural religious law.
4. Eternity future
Out of his love God will bring about a new heaven and a new earth. After his judgment of humans that willfully rejected his love over their lifetimes, he will no longer need to be a judge and warrior. Here are great verses from the last chapter in the last book of the Bible:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” 5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” … He said to me: “It is done.” (Revelation 21:1-6)
So is God’s love unconditional? Yes and no. It is conditional on a smaller scale when someone continuously over a lifetime rejects God and his love expressed through moral law and subjects himself to final judgment. It is unconditional on a smaller scale when an individual, especially a confused and lost one, stands in need of it. It is unconditional on a larger scale for “dusty,” pitiable humankind.
So from eternity past, through the present, where humans momentarily interact with the eternal God of love who offers the good news of his love for them, all the way into eternity future—this statement is true:
God was, is, and always shall be love.