Does God have an attribute which is prominent over all His other attributes?

J. Carl Laney

February 10, 2009

Editor's Note: The following excerpt is taken from Dr. Laney's book, Answers to Tough Questions.

Theologians debate among themselves whether God's love or His holiness is His greatest or most prominent attribute. For the most part, I see the attributes of God like the facets of a precious diamond. Each facet reflects and displays the light radiating from the gem. The diamond needs each of the facets to fully display the brilliance of the stone. Both God's love and His holiness are fundamental attributes of God and we would be imbalanced should we emphasize one over the other.

There is, however, one attribute that is first in the list of those things God said about Himself in His self-revelation to Moses (Exod. 34:6-7). The first thing someone says about him or herself is usually pretty important to them. This may be the case with God. I believe it is significant that the first attribute God mentioned to Moses was His compassion. "Then Yahweh passed by in front of him and proclaimed, 'Yahweh, Yahweh God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth" (Exod. 34:6). Since it is mentioned first in God's self-revelation, "compassion" may be God's preeminent personal attribute.

The word "compassion" is based on a root that refers to a deep love rooted in some natural bond. Associated with this root is the Hebrew word for "womb." Like a loving mother, God has a compassionate concern for His people. Whether this attribute is more important than the others could be debated. But it is prominent in God's description of Himself and it seems to be foundational for our relationship with Him.

Dr. J. Carl Laney is Professor of Biblical Literature at Western Seminary in Portland, OR. For more biblical resources by Dr. Laney, please visit


Originally published February 10, 2009.

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