The Unconditional Love of God

What do you think of God's love? Is it conditional or unconditional? 

When a person loves conditionally, he or she removes his or her love from someone who does not meet specific criteria. When a person loves unconditionally, he or she loves no matter what the other person does. 

Way of Life Literature, Inc. says to beware of Henri Nouwen because "Nouwen taught that God is only love, unconditional love:

“Don’t be afraid to offer your hate, bitterness, and disappointment to the One who is love and only love. ... [Pray] ‘Dear God ... what you want to give me is love--unconditional, everlasting love’” (With Open Hands, pp. 24, 27).

"In fact," David Cloud, who wrote this article for Way of Life Literature, writes, "God’s love is not unconditional. It is unfathomable but not unconditional. Though God loves all men and Christ died to make it possible for all to be saved, there is a condition for receiving God’s love and that is acknowledging and repenting of one’s sinfulness and receiving Jesus Christ as one’s Lord and Saviour. Further, God is not only love; He is also holy and just and light and truth. This is what makes the cross of Jesus Christ necessary. An acceptable atonement had to be made for God’s broken law." 

I was going to leave that article alone - the one that told its readers to beware of Henri Nouwen. I alluded to it the other day in my post A Year with Henri Nouwen to show that not everyone agrees with our author. However, that last part - the part about God's love - keeps bothering me. 

I am not sure how people of faith can say with certainty that God's love is conditional. 

Consider the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Jesus described a young man who asked his father for his share of the inheritance while his dad was still alive. In that culture that was as good as saying that the son wished his father dead. After he received the money, the son went away and spent it all living wildly. In the end when he was reduced to feeding pigs and starving, the son decided to return home. To his surprise, he was welcomed with open arms by his father who threw a party for him and took him back into the family as a son.

In this parable, we can see that the father is God and the prodigal son is us. 

In First Corinthians 13: 4 - 8, the apostle Paul describes love:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
What is Paul describing? Is love an abstract attribute? No. Paul is describing how God loves because God is love. 

1 John 4 says twice "God is love." It does not say that God exemplifies love; it says, "God is love". In other words, love is the essence of God's being. Everything God does is because God is love. Love is the reason that God is holy, just, light and truth, as Cloud says. Love is the reason God sent Jesus to the cross. Just because we accept Jesus does not mean that God starts loving us at that point. God already loved us (I John 4: 10, Romans 5: 7 - 10). God does not remove his love from us just because we reject him. Love never fails. This is what is illustrated in the parable of The Prodigal Son.

Actually, Cloud is describing not love, but forgiveness, which is conditional. We learned this in our study of the book "Unpacking Forgiveness" by Chris Brauns.  God loves all of us but he will not forgive any of us until we ask. It is Jesus' death on the cross that makes asking possible. It is love that makes forgiveness conditional. Why? To gain forgiveness, we must humble ourselves and recognize the wrong we have done to God and others. If we are humble and truly sorry, we will not deliberately commit the same offense again. In fact, we will do our best not to repeat our offenses. God loves us so much that he does not want to see us remain as we are. He wants to have a loving relationship with us and this cannot happen if we are continually offending him. A 'relationship' is a two-way street; if we take God for granted so much that we continually offend him with our attitudes and behavior, how does that demonstrate love on our part? It is our behaviors and attitudes that deny the loving relationship with an unconditionally loving God, just as the Prodigal Son's attitudes and behaviors prevented a loving relationship with his unconditionally loving father.

Love is the reason that we can offer our "hate, bitterness and disappointment" to God, as Nouwen encourages. Have you ever revealed your true self to a friend only to have that friend remove his or her friendship? That is conditional love and God will never do this. In prayer, we can offer ourselves. We can ask God to change us and he will.