Does God want to be loved? If so, how could S/He endure to be loved just because S/He forced us to do so? Is not free love the only type of true love?
If God wants a loving relationship with human beings, S/He must want human beings to answer or not to His/Her love.
If they are not free to answer or not, to love or not, then their love is just coerced and no one can be happy about being loved in such a way.
Dewey D. Wallace Jr., among many others, distinguished between free will as freedom of choice and free will as absence of compulsion. The former implies absence of predestination, whereas the latter might be compatible with some form of determinism, since one may maintain "that the predestined will acts freely and with consequent responsibility for its actions" (Wallace 2005).
This seems to me difficult to accept in the case of reprobation (predestination to hell), whereas I can better follow Augustine's claim that God's grace assists the human will when this is directed to the good. This seems to mean that, if we consent, God will save us because we are unable to save ourselves on our own. Yet, if consent is preserved*, I see no contradiction with the above freedom of love: God accepts our unworthy love because S/He appreciates most of all our will to love Her/Him, although we are still unable to actually to actualize it.
But what about the opposite case? Is God intervening when our will is oriented to the evil? If so, this seems to be incompatible with the idea of a loving God. If not, this seems to be incompatible with the idea of an omnipotent and benevolent God (who should be able to save all of us, if only S/He wanted it). A possible way out would be to understand "omnipotence" in a less strong way (as in the works of the Jesuit founder of "Molinism", Luis de Molina, 1535--1600), or to get rid of it altogether.
Personally, I would have no hesitation to give up omnipotence to preserve Love as God's essential quality. What would you prefer to keep?
*And it seems to be preserved, see Augustine's well-known velle enim et nolle propriae voluntatis est ("to want and not to want is proper of one's will"), De gratia et libero arbitrio 3.5.
See also: Gratia et Certamen: the relationship between grace and free will in the discussion of Augustine with the so-called semipelagians, ed. by Donato Ogliari, Leuven 2003.
"Free will and the human act in seventeenth century Eastern Orthodox theology", by David Heith-Stade. In: Studia Theologica 65 (2011), pp. 134--145. (with an interesting parallelism of Eastern Theology with Molinism and an insightful reflection about "image and likeness", which we discussed in this post).
If you are interested in free will in Indian thought, you might check this link to my previous blog.