What Does it Mean That God's Love Is Unconditional?

R. Keith Whitt
What Does it Mean That God's Love Is Unconditional?

A pair of hands methodically began to scoop up the loose ground, moving it into a pile. When a sufficient amount of earth had been placed in the pile, the hands began to move the earth around swiftly. The earth began to take a shape unseen before. When the earth had been fashioned into the desired form, the Creator bent down, looked approvingly at the shape and placed His mouth over the earthen lips of the form.

He breathed, forcing air into the earthen vessel He had fashioned. Suddenly, miraculously, the form responded to the breath and sprang to life. Adam was aware that he was the culmination and climax of creation and that the Creator had just formed a special bond with him – a relationship of love (see Genesis 2:7).

The Very Nature of God is Love

Volumes have been written about the characteristics of God, but when it is distilled to the most basic categories, He is love (1 John 4:8), life (Jeremiah 10:10; Revelation 22:1), and holiness (Psalms 99:9). And in reality, His life and holiness are based upon and are an expression of His love: love gives, so He gives life; love desires the best, so holiness proceeds from Him.

Love is not something he chooses to do or give. It is the very essence of who He is. He doesn't just love – He is love (1 John 4:16). It motivates His every action, directs His activities, and reflects His desires (1 John 4:10). Love is the greatest and purest essence of who a person is and its proper expression brings fulfillment.

However, God's love is not like the love expressed by many in our culture today: a love of convenience and ego. That is, "I will love you as long as you add value to my life and please me. When that ceases, so does my love for you." For many, love is conditional. The conditions may be different depending upon the relationship, but there are still conditions to be met in order to "earn" our love.

William Bennett, former Secretary of Education and author of The Book of Virtues: A Treasury of Great Moral Stories (1993), once said that he attended a wedding where the vows had been changed to reflect this love of convenience. He decided to send a gift to the couple that reflected their commitment to the marriage – a package of paper plates! He said he figured the package would last as long as the marriage.

This attitude stands in stark contrast to God's unconditional love, which never fails (Psalms 52:8), endures forever (Psalms 106:1), is uncalculating (Proverbs 30:5), and not motivated by personal gain (1 John 3:16). Unconditional love does not mean that God loves everything we do, but rather His love is so intense that He loves every sinner, no matter how vile and despicable he or she may be in the eyes of humanity, so much that He provides a way for them to find love, life, and holiness (John 3:16). "Intense love does not measure, it just gives" (Mother Teresa).

The Focus of God's Love is Redemption

Daily, Adam and Eve walked with God, until the desire for pleasure overcame their love for God (see Genesis 3). This break in the relationship required redemption.

God's love (and our own!) is not an abstract ideal, but a concrete reality that finds expression. Love that is not expressed through the giving of self, practical action and sacrifice is not love. Love must meet the emotional, physical, and spiritual needs of those loved. It is costly, brings vulnerability, and seeks the person's highest good (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

God's unconditional and intense love for fallen humanity motivated the plan of salvation (Revelation 1:5). Simply, salvation is God making us whole or complete. It is a healing of the soul, bringing us back to the state of Adam when God breathed life into him and made him a living soul. Separation from God, caused by sin, is separation from life. A person might have biological life, but not the quality of life God envisions for us.

A few years ago I encountered Marc, a house painter. He promptly told me that he knew I was a preacher, but he didn't have much for Christians or preachers because of some bad experiences. I quickly prayed for wisdom and said, "Marc, Christians are a lot like painters. Not everyone who claims to be one is. Of those who are, some are better than others. And even the best make mistakes." He paused and replied, "I've never thought about it like that." Our friendship continued to develop. One day, he called to tell me that he and his wife had given their hearts to the Lord. He was amazed that he felt so alive and free. God's love brings cleansing, freedom, and wholeness. True love is liberating, not restrictive. This does not give us a license to sin, but the freedom to serve God completely, motivated by love, and empowered by the Spirit.

God's love motivates His compassion and mercy (love in action). His love brings transformation. Usually at baptism, the minister will quote from Matthew 28:19 and baptize the person "in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." We clap, raise our hands, and miss the truth of the event. It is more than a public expression of one's faith. At baptism, we are baptized (immersed) into the very character of the Father (love), the character of the Son (grace), and the character of the Holy Spirit (fellowship; see 2 Corinthians 13:13).

Salvation is based on God's fervent love and mercy, not our worthiness (Titus 3:4-5). One response (in the image of Jesus Christ's offering on the Cross) is that we offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God (Rom 12:1).

The Goal of God's Love is Relationship

Love requires relationship, as love is a dynamic force or presence that naturally seeks expression. Simply put, love loves! And in order to do that there must be an object of that love or it is incomplete.

God's love is revealed in that He created us in His own image (a position of responsibility before God) and likeness (moral freedom; Genesis 1:26-27; Job 33:4). Part of that image/likeness is freedom of choice. We can choose to accept and embrace God's love or we can choose to ignore or reject it. We were formed from dust, but because of God's great love for us, we received the breath of God, with its intrinsic and inherent life. This life gives us the capacity and desire to be in relationship (understanding; self-awareness; communicative; ability to have fellowship) and to love in return. To live in God is to live in love (1 John 4:16).

Our relationship with God is an intimate one. There is a sacred knowledge and expression that takes place. To know Him intimately is to open the door for revelation and fulfillment. It brings change or transformation-change of essence, expression, behavior, desires, identity, and security. The bond is so strong that God says a nursing mother may abandon her child, but He will never abandon us (Isaiah 49:15-16). He becomes the ultimate Father!

When we reflect upon the intensity of our relationship with God, self-doubt often arises. Can we keep our end of the bargain? Of great comfort (and a pressing challenge) is the thought that our relationship with God is not the sum of our activity directed toward God, but the intensity of our relationship with God as expressed through our devotion to him, our obedience to his wishes, and our attitudes toward his will and best desires for us. He loved us first, enabling us to respond properly to His love (1 John 4:10-11). And His love (and ability) never fails.

A young student asked Karl Barth to share the most significant theological truth he had discovered in all of his years of study. Barth, one of the most prolific theologians of the 20th century, wrote approximately sixty volumes of commentaries and theological studies. This brilliant man that many call the most important theologian of modern times thought for a moment, smiled, and said, "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so."

Nothing-absolutely nothing-can separate us from God's love (Romans 8:35-39)!

Photo credit: Pixabay/jclk8888