Question Tuesday: Does God have a chief attribute?

Every Tuesday morning we come together on Speak What We Feel to discuss various questions regarding faith and life to get to know each other and to sharpen one another, to grow in perspective and understanding. Today’s question is:

Does God have a chief attribute?


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13 Responses to Question Tuesday: Does God have a chief attribute?

  1. Brian says:

    Since God is fully perfect in all His attributes, he is not “more” one than any other.
    However, since your question smartly asks if He has a “chief” attribute, I think we can answer that: HOLINESS.
    Above all, God is holy, sanctified, perfect, set apart from all of creation in a way that we can hardly comprehend. All His other attributes are defined first by this attribute.

    • reneamac says:

      I appreciate that you’ve qualified your statement by noting that God is not more of any one characteristic than any other. I feel as though people often mean God is mostly this or that when they ascribe “chief” attributes to him. I also like how you seem to be saying something similar to Mike below: God is other; he is set apart; he is who He Is. Thanks, Brian.

  2. Mike Busch says:

    Interesting question Renea! Being God, it seems He defines everything else and therefore His chief attribute is being God (all encompassing). Or His chief attribute is I AM? In other words, it’s too limiting to select any human word as the chief descriptor. That being said, from a human perspective, I think of His chief attribute as holiness.

    • reneamac says:

      Mike, I really, really like this response. A few weeks back I asked about which names of God speak to us the most in our current, individual circumstances and so forth; I AM is one of my favorites for the very reason you mention here: it speaks to God’s all-encompassing godness.

      This also helps me feel more comfortable with those, like yourself and my good friend Brian above, who say holiness is his chief attribute: it helps me think of holiness as otherness, in God’s case, godness.

  3. Val says:

    Hm, I was going to say “love”, per 1 John 4:8. But that was just a reaction to the question. I’m hesitant to reduce God to one particular attribute (maybe I shouldn’t be, but my intuition tells me it’s wisest to be skittish about reductionism).

    In other words, is this a trick question?

    • reneamac says:

      You’re so wonderful; you know me well. I confess, I did ask this partly as a sort of trick question; I was motivated by the same skittishness of reductionism and, as Kevin notes below, a skittishness to our particular Christian culture’s inattention/skittishness toward God’s mysterious nature.

      Prior to asking myself, and consequently you all, this question, I too would default to Love.

  4. I don’t think saying “love” or “holiness” or anything else reduces him to any one attribute. The question seems more to be getting at God’s core, primary essence or motivation.

    I was also going for John 4:8 and Love. And Holiness is well-argued. With The Undiscovered Country Project, I’m often talking about God’s mysterious nature – his attribute to which our essential curiosity is attuned and which therefore draws us to him.

    But, I think I AM is a separate concept from holiness. It is the idea that God *is* and that his existence is his essence: “I am that I am.”

    I think that nails it. He is. He exists in Holiness and Love and neither definitively springs from the other. He loves because he is Holy, he is Holy because he is Love. “I Am” denotes his holiness, transcendence, imminence, omnipresence and so much more – especially the fact that he is not dependent upon anyone to define him in any way.

    Therefore, however we may answer this question, it seems clear that, ultimately, Yahweh is his own answer. That may well be his defining attribute – the one upon which all others depend and which all others serve to express.

  5. Larry Murray says:

    Okay, Renea, you’ve snookered us on this one (not sure I’ve ever used the word snookered before). The next question in this line of trickery is, “What is your wife’s greatest quality?” To state one answer seems to diminish the others. And the last question to trip us up along this path is “Does this dress look okay?” There’s no right answer; only a wrong one…or another question if a guy has any sense, “What do you think?”

    God’s chief attribute? Well, what does He think? While it is certainly true that by pointing out one attribute we may diminish the rest, God’s Word seems to suggest that His holiness holds His character and all of His attributes (including love, justice, mercy, grace, goodness, truth, eternity, etc..) in absolute perfection.

    God tells us in His Word that those who worship in His very presence assert, with threefold emphasis, that God is holy:
    “Seraphim were standing above Him; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another:
    “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts; His glory fills the whole earth.”
    The foundations of the doorways shook at the sound of their voices, and the temple was filled with smoke. Isaiah 6:2–4

    “Each of the four living creatures had six wings; they were covered with eyes around and inside. Day and night they never stop, saying:
    “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God, the Almighty, who was, who is, and who is coming.” Revelation 4:8

    In Heaven’s throne room, angels proclaim God’s holiness in His presence, and He doesn’t correct them. As we examine the Bible we find that a twofold repetition is strong in both Hebrew and Greek languages, but threefold repetition is the strongest in both languages. The only attribute of God described so forcefully is His holiness.

    I anticipate that One Day, when we see Him face to face, our first words uttered with complete awe may be, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God the Almighty.”

    • reneamac says:

      Good point, Larry; thanks! An appeal to syntax is always a good way to get my attention. 🙂 Especially since syntax structure is a weightier component of interpreting emphasis in inflecting languages such as Hebrew and Greek (as opposed to modern English which has shed alsmost all of its inflecting components).

      Aaanyway… Your intro cracked me up. I imagine God saying, “Does this threefold repetition make my holiness look fat?”

      Thanks again.

  6. I like to picture IAM’s character as a wheel…the center is holiness and every other attribute including love radiates from that focal point. Nevertheless, God is eternally who He is (the same yesterday, today and forever) in spite of how He’s viewed by mankind…that comforts me!

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