(un)conditional love

If you are going to decorate for February, chances are that hearts will be in the mix because Valentine’s Day falls in February. Love is a multifaceted thing that can be seen from a bunch of different angles. As I write this, I am thinking about the readings for this coming Sunday, January 30th, where 1 Corinthians 13 is the reading. Because it behooves me to plan ahead these days, I happen to know that the Sunday of February 20th also contains a few verses from Luke 6 on the topic of love. I do not plan to preach on either reading so maybe I will talk a bit about them here.

In Sunday morning Bible class we have been working through a study on forgiveness. This last Sunday it came up in the study that we often attach conditions to our forgiveness of people. We usually expect a      person to be sorry and say so, we expect them to look and act like they are sorry, we expect them to make things right and if these conditions are met, they earn our forgiveness. In some ways this reflects how we often show love to others. In the case of love, the conditions are a little different though. They might be something like expecting that the person be “lovable” (they are funny or see things the way we do etc.). We might want to see some kind of return on our investment of love. We might ask ourselves what we are getting in return for loving this person if anything. How they feel about us can make a difference. We may ask ourselves what the point is of showing love to someone who does not love us back (or even hates us). If someone meets the conditions; if they are lovable and add some value to our lives and love us in return, then they have earned   our love.

These kinds of conditions for love are not terribly controversial because they are entirely too practical. Of course, you would love someone like that. Why not? Jesus knows this kind of a person is easy to love when He says in Luke 6:32, “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even Sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.” Jesus isn’t saying that you shouldn’t love those who are easy to love, He is just saying that Christian love is a bit wider than that. He tells us a few verses later in that passage that you should “love your enemies”.

As is rather obvious, this is impractical. You can’t just forgive someone who isn’t sorry. They’ll just keep doing whatever it is again and again. You can’t love people who are your enemies. They’ll take advantage of you. And yet, Jesus flips the coin to show us the other side when He says in Luke 6:36, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”

The difficulty of how hard it is to forgive and to love and be merciful to other people is directly proportional to how much God forgives and loves and is merciful to us. It is hard to understand what           unconditional love is until you are asked to love someone unconditionally. We may fall into the trap of thinking that it is easy for God to love us, that He gets something out of His love for us and that is why we    receive good things from Him. But this is not true. He loves us unconditionally. He loves us even though we are unlovable. He loves us even though we cannot give Him anything. He loves us even though we are His   enemies. This is not a transaction with God. He loves you. Period.

When Paul describes this kind of love in 1 Corinthians 13:7 he says, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” This is how God loves us. We could simply take this forgiveness and deliberately transgress again and again. We could take advantage of God’s forgiveness. When it comes to our response to God’s love He seems to be after volunteers not hostages.

Yes, it is un-humanly hard to love unconditionally. We want it to be easier. We want something in return. We want a give-and-take kind of a relationship with people. But God calls us to a love that is deeper than   that. He knows it is a hard ask. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. There is nothing like being loved unconditionally, by God or anyone else.