Unconditional Love

The definition of “unconditional” is generally that which is without conditions or limitations and is used commonly as “unconditional surrender” (in war), and “unconditional support” (as in foreign policy). I can’t recall a time when the term “unconditional love” came into usage; seems like it’s always been around.

For me the idea of “unconditional love” has always been a given, even though I’ve always had a little uneasy feeling about it probably because I wasn’t sure I could do it. The number of those who ascribe to the idea of unconditional love is pervasive and encompasses all levels of society, religion and education. After a discussion in our World Changers group, I embarked on some research that convinced me that unconditional love, although a great ideal, perhaps does not exist.

Everyone has been accused at some time of being judgmental which is tantamount to saying “you don’t love me.” Being judgmental and loving seem to be at odds. The premise is that only God can judge. But, many will also say that God’s love is unconditional and he loves us regardless of what we do. And in today’s world no one can tell anyone else how to behave, because there is no bad behavior, just different. So when folks are judgmental, they are either racist, or elitist, or sexist, or something-or-other “phobic,” and surely not very Christian.

In a recent article by Philip Zimbardo, psychology professor emeritus at Stanford, he explains the difference between a Mom and Dad’s love for children. In a mixture of prevailing thought, he claims that a Mom’s love for her children is essentially unconditional, while Dad’s is conditional. His simple answer is the fact that Mom bore the child and Dad did not, and that is a special connection. That difference is the reason why having a Mother and Father is not a mere social convention, but a critical dynamic in the normal development of humans. God made it that way.

He goes on to explain that the Mom will react to C grades with something like, “Well, that’s okay, just try to do better” (unconditional). Dad will say something like, “You are on restriction until you bring those grades up” (conditional). Now some may say that has nothing to do with love, but then what is it? The child hears, “I am not going to approve of you until you change.” New terms come up such as “tough love,” which is nothing but a condition being placed in order to change behavior. People do it all the time with kids, spouses and friends; conditions on behavior. Would mom react the same if they were “F” grades?

So how is this understood in conveying Gods word? Congregations are told (hopefully) that God accepts us regardless of our behavior. God’s overwhelming love and His unbounded grace cover all of everyone’s sin. Since we can never sin enough to be outside the love and forgiveness of God, we have heard often that the love of God is unconditional. Well, all of that is true, but with conditions. It is interesting to note that nowhere in the Bible is any word found that could be translated unconditional, let alone connected to God’s love. Paraphrases don’t count. So where does it come from?

The term became common by way of psychology as in “unconditional positive regard,” or in English, “unconditional love.” In psychology, since everyone is basically good, sin doesn’t exist. A person’s personal struggles can be the result of internal malfunctions caused mainly by parents and other influences that did not provide “unconditional love” (acceptance). So in theory if all exercised “unconditional positive regard” we could produce perfect people. It has never happened. When the word of God is rejected, answers for obvious human defects (sin), must place blame somewhere, so theories are constructed.

All of these theories are contrary to the word of God that states clearly we all inherited Adam’s fallen nature and are sinners. But in God’s love and mercy he gave His Son Jesus to pay the penalty (on the cross) for our sin so we can be saved from the final judgment of God’s wrath, if we so choose to repent and accept forgiveness. Throughout the entire Bible there are numerous “ifs” and “thens” given by God. If you do this (or don’t), then this will happen. They are all conditions that God requires be met. When Jesus told Nicodemus (John 3:1ff) that he “must be born again,” it was a condition to enter the kingdom of God. He didn’t say “you must be born again, but if you choose not to, that’s okay since I love you unconditionally, come on in.”

The dilemma is that while we are saved by grace and cannot earn it, the condition is we must “be born again.” Jesus said if you love me then keep my commandments. Once again a condition. It starts to become clear that life now and hereafter is not without conditions. The simple need to discipline children is conditional. The therapist who espouses “unconditional positive regard” will not continue appointments if payment is not made. The only way to get around the problems with unconditional love is to start redefining terms beginning with “love,” which has always been difficult to nail down.

Christian beliefs and practices are the closest we can get to unconditional love, if the Holy Spirit is allowed to express that love through our lives. The bar is set in the “love chapter” of I Cor. 13. Every time I read it, my spirit is quickened to exhibit that Godly kind of love, together with walking in forgiveness. We can only do so by relying on God to infuse our being with His love and forgiveness. With God’s help we can forgive and love folks even if they don’t deserve it or ask for it, but at the same time hold them accountable, as does God.












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