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January 30, 2022
Is Unconditional Love a Biblical Concept?

Yes and no… First of all, what is it? Generally speaking, unconditional love is the acceptance of a person without him or her meeting any conditions. In other words, it means having affection for someone without establishing limitations. So, unconditional love means loving someone irrespective of that person’s behavior. That’s the common understanding… However, this popular idea of unconditional love is quite contrary to much of what God says in the Bible. It’s because humans are flawed. That’s why God provided laws that he commands us to live by. He did this for our own individual benefit as well as the overall good of society. For example, God said to the Israelites in the second of his Ten Commandments, “You shall not make for yourself an idol … You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to thousands who love me and keep my commandments” (Ex 20.6 NIV).

So, God says anyone who makes an idol and bows down to it or worships it, hates Him. When the Israelites did that, it made God jealous since they were worshipping something, or someone (demon), other than Him, who was their Creator. Notice that God says here that He loves people who love Him, and they love Him by keeping His commandments. So, this text shows that God’s love is conditional in that He loves us when we keep His commandments. Much of this biblical truth is contrary to what generally has been taught by modern psychology, and even so-called “theology”. It says such stringent requirements are legalistic and thus contrary to love and intimacy. On the contrary, consider the last six of God’s Ten Commandments, which concern human relations. The Fifth Commandment says children shall honor their parents. The rest of the Ten Commandments forbid murder, adultery, stealing, lying, and coveting. That pretty much sums up the whole gambit of man’s sin against man. If we humans will obey these precepts, it will help us a lot to achieve love and intimacy. We won’t get it by accepting each other’s behavior no matter what it is. To do so would throw society into utter chaos, in which there would be no laws. “Everyone would do what was right in his or her own eyes.“ Thus, selfishness, hatred, crime, and all manner of injustice would run rampant. Laws are needed. Love that loves God’s law and righteousness unconditionally is very much needed too in this day and age… Now, to a certain extent God loves all people unconditionally even though they break his laws. For instance, he provides food to eat and water to drink for both sinner and saint. Jesus taught his disciples to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” because God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (Matt. 5.44-45).

Furthermore, God loves people unconditionally by providing a remedy for our breaking His laws, and it has everything to do with our experiencing intimacy with Him and with each other. It’s called forgiveness. God will forgive us for our law-breaking, but this divine forgiveness is also conditional. The condition God requires for Him to forgive us is repentance. That is, we must humble ourselves before God in prayer, confess our sins, and thereby acknowledge our guilt. And we may need to express heartfelt remorse as the occasion demands. Maybe we should even go to someone we’ve wronged, confess it, and ask for that person’s forgiveness. And in some cases, we may need to make restitution along with our repentance.

But repentance – confessing our sins due to breaking God’s laws – is not enough. God also told the Israelites to build an altar and perform animal sacrifices on it as a covering (atonement) for sins. But that was only a prototype of the ultimate sacrifice for sins that was to come. For, God loved all humans unconditionally by sending His beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the Cross for our sins (John 3.16). God will finally forgive us of our sins if we believe in Jesus and accept Him as our Savior. Thus, God’s forgiveness is conditional. Then, where did this idea of indiscriminate, “unconditional love” originate? Psychoanalyst Erich Fromm first used this expression in 1934. He later developed it in his highly-successful book, The Art of Loving (1956). Fromm was an atheist, who rejected authoritarian government, taught an unbiblical self-love, and argued persistently against Christian faith. Humanist psychologist Carl Rogers, who has been second only to Sigmund Freud as a clinical therapist, refined Fromm’s idea of unconditional love. Rogers’ parents were devout Pentecostals; but he apostatized from Christianity and adopted Taoism. Later in life, Rogers experienced and promoted the occult and rejected the concept of fidelity in marriage. He was a leader of the idea, “whatever feels right, do it.” Much of the Western Church has accepted the expression “unconditional love,” in some of its versions, which originated from these ungodly men. There often is some truth in popular ideas; so, it is with unconditional love. We humans often need to be less judgmental of others and more accepting of them. “Love the sinner and hate the sin” seems like good advice. (Yet, can a person be detached from his or her deeds?) But the “live and let live” philosophy is a half-truth, and it is wreaking some havoc in western society. For instance, God established a separate day of the week to be observed as His day (dedicated to worshiping Him). Yet most of our contemporaries now reject or ignore this notion. As a result, the rebirth of neo-paganism, where humans make gods on their own that suite their lifestyle, or even become gods of themselves deciding on their own what is right or wrong, good or evil, acceptable or not. Therefore, chaos is ruling the day…  Or take marriage. Unconditional love says a marriage partner must accept her or his spouse no matter what, even if a spouse commits adultery. Now, a single infraction of this sort may not need to end in divorce. But what about serial adultery or repeated physical abuse? Traditional marriage vows don’t provide any remedy for such transgressions, thus seeming to endorse unconditional love. Yet, Jesus taught that the victim of adultery has a God-given right to divorce (Matt. 19.8-9).  Some no doubt will interject, “what about God saying ‘I hate divorce’” (Malachi 2.16). Indeed, He does; yet He divorced Israel (Isaiah 50.1). Why? Jews constantly broke His laws attached to the Covenant He had with them, somewhat like a marriage covenant should be between lovers. Requiring marriage to continue no matter what, spouses do encourage reprehensible behaviors that may endanger lives. At times, we all have gone our own way by breaking some of God’s laws. But thank God His love reaches the vilest of sinners. The Bible says there is no sin God cannot forgive except the unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit (Matt. 12.31-32; Mark 3.29). Think of the penitent thief on the cross with Jesus. Christianity goes through cycles. In the first half of the 20th century, much of the U.S. churches were legalistic, advocating a works of salvation. Nowadays, a portion of them preaches cheap grace and easy-believism. The Bible teaches that salvation comes by faith, but faith that needs works (James 2.26). Scripture says God is “intimate with the upright” (Proverbs 3.32). The book of Psalms begins, “Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked [from men like Erich Fromm and Carl Rogers] but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law they meditate day and night” (Psalm 1.1-2). And Jesus told His disciples, “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them…. Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them…” (John 14.21-24). Unconditional love opposes justice. Ask the average person who has been mistreated and s/he likely, and rightly, will tell you the guilty party should suffer punishment for their crime. Laws of government are necessary for the preservation of a civil society. Without them, there would be chaos. Unconditional love is contrary to an important role in the prophetic tradition. Israel’s prophets are well known for repeatedly having rebuked the nation and warning it of God’s impending judgment. Yes, unconditional love is contrary to God’s judgment as well. At the final judgment, when God will have wicked angels and people cast into the lake of fire, He sure won’t love them unconditionally. Then, there is no reason to fear a God who loves unconditionally. And yet, the Bible says “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111.10; Proverbs 9.10; cf. 1.7). Why fear God? He judges sin. In sum, God’s unconditional love was demonstrated in the cross of Christ; yet God still requires that we meet the condition of believing in Jesus Christ with a faith that to some degree keeps His commandments. But we all know that in this life, none of us are perfect; we all still sin. Thanks God for His love to us sinners…