Unconditional love? You really, deep down, unconditionally believe that?

Greetings my lovelies. Sorry I’ve been gone for awhile. I know you’ve been ravenously awaiting my next entry, so here goes.

I wonder if unconditional love is more of a wish than a reality. Some claim God has unconditional love for humanity. Some say that they unconditionally love their spouse or children. Others claim it is something people should exhibit toward others, so that these others can reach their full potential. Maybe I’m weird, but I call this whole concept malarkey. Unconditional? Really? Out of Jesus’ own mouth (well, depending on what you think of the Gospel of John) come these words: “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love” (15.10 NIV). That’s a pretty blatant conditional statement. One could easily read that and understand, “If you don’t obey my commands, you won’t remain in my love…and probably my Father’s love either.” In fact, you remember that hell thing? This next thing will cover unconditional love and free will. If there were truly a free choice in the matter, one could live one’s life as one chose and there wouldn’t be any repercussions, like a guy asking a girl out, she says no, and the guy, though heartbroken because she’s awesome, let’s her go because he wants her to be happy and understands she won’t be happy if he forces her to be with him or gives her an ultimatum, “Go out with me, or I will torture you for a very long time.” When put like that, it kind of sounds like that Ariel Castro guy, tyrannical, and nothing like a freely chosen relationship. Hell is that thing you get for not choosing God, and definitely puts an eternal conditional on his love for people. I’m sure there are theological ways out of the seeming disparity between God’s unconditional love and the concept of a choice between eternity with God and that without him in burning darkness, but I’m horrifically ignorant of its resolution. My betters can counsel me in the way of light.

Let’s go to the unconditional love people say they hold for their families. Let’s say you’ve been in a committed relationship with your spouse since you were in your teens, and you are now in your fifties. Let’s say you just find out that not only has your spouse been sexually abusing children since he was in his teens, but has also been doing the same thing to your own kids their entire lives, and has been exceptionally good at hiding it until, say, yesterday for some reason. Rather than unconditional positive regard for this person, is not rather your blood going to curdle? Will not rage ejaculate in unrelenting passion? Will you not see justice to its end, if not by a judge and jury, at your own hands? Probably. Unless you hate children and enjoy seeing them suffer at your unconditionally loved’s whim. Or let’s say you’ve been with your spouse since your teens, you’re in your fifties, your children are out of the house, out of college. Let’s say one day you come home, only to find your eldest carving on your dead spouse’s corpse while painting his face with her blood and laughing hysterically. Let’s say this is also incredibly out of character for your eldest, that he was a good student, popular with everyone, and involved in his youth and college groups heavily. Would you be standing there, waiting with open arms to say, “I understand. This isn’t like you. We’re going to get through this because I love you. Sure, you took away the light of my life, the mother of my children, but I’ve still got you, right?” The cold, lifeless universe cries a resounding, “No, no you wouldn’t.”

Granted, these are rather radical examples, maybe too ridiculous to be taken seriously. But if they did happen, would this person hold unconditional love in high regard? Maybe it exists, just not with all people, and not at all times. Perhaps. Or perhaps it is entirely dependent on the other person at least not being a maniac. And them probably exhibiting at least an ounce of reciprocity in love. Or maybe I’m just a dark, negative ninny who needs to find happier things to write about. You’re a reader. You judge for yourself, and figure what I totally left out of the conversation.

2 thoughts on “Unconditional love? You really, deep down, unconditionally believe that?”

  1. I think you are correct in calling BS on the shallow uses of unconditional love. And when it comes to persons, I not only think there is no such capacity for unconditional love but am also become very suspicious when people start claiming to have it. As you point out, love can have a monstrous quality just as it can have a glorious one, particularly in humans.

    Now the issue of Divine unconditional love. (As a quick aside, was it Nietzsche who reverses Dante’s “I too was created by eternal love” above the gates of Hell by saying “I too was created by eternal hatred” above the gates of Heaven?) Anyway, I think you are also correct about the problematic attribution of ‘unconditional’ to divine love. I also think it is possible that different biblical writers may have different theologies here. One of the frustrating things about my evangelical past was the insistence upon one totalized biblical theology. The differences were submerged and the clearest (i.e., the one that fit our worldview neatly) were used to interpret all the others. This rips so much depth and beauty for the biblical traditions. But it fits nicely with the modernist idea (or maybe just bastardized modern idea) truth = unchanging ahistorical fact. Then again, maybe its not modernist. Luther hated the books of James because it didn’t fit neatly into his theology. Returning, if I remember correctly, we recently had the discussion about making choices within a religious tradition since we cannot follow them all. Perhaps the same is true with the theologies in the biblical tradition. Perhaps we need to choose one, while perhaps allowing all the others to constantly critique and challenge us.

    I actually just wrote a bunch about negative theology then realized I bit off way more than I could chew for now, so I deleted it and I’ll just table it until we can yak on Sunday.

    1. Hey Don. The totalizing biblical theology doesn’t make sense to me anymore, because it blindly accepts the criteria from 1700 years ago at a council, where we don’t share many of the same presuppositions. Ok, so the canon ended up consisting of 66 books. Was one of the criteria coherence? Univocality? I don’t remember that one on there. I’m not looking it up, but I remember apostolicity, how many churches used the work, and two other criteria….ok, I’m looking it up. In the Anchor Bible Dictionary article on “canon,” a work to be included in the canon had to be apostolic, catholic, orthodox, and in traditional use. Apostolic- by an apostle or someone close to him, Catholic- available, accessible, and not esoteric, Orthodox- this one’s interesting, in that the church’s true teaching seemed to have arisen from another source than these documents (regula fidei), and in Traditional use- had been in use in many churches from an early time in history. Sure, orthodoxy might be construed later by people to mean a unifying voice of teaching, but I don’t think the people at the councils would have argued this. Hell, that’s why they kept 4 gospels and didn’t like people like Tatian.

      I wonder if I’m looking for unchanging ahistorical fact when I’m trying to nail God or the faith down. Sometimes I attribute eternality to nature that definitely doesn’t fit, but it just feels that way because it’s so dang old. I almost wrote “Carbon, Helium, and Hydrogen have always been Carbon, Helium, and Hydrogen,” forgetting that some of the heavier elements, I believe, come either from the formation or death of stars. This I really don’t feel like looking up right now.

      I look forward to hear about negative theology. One guy pointed out to me that the negative in negative theology always affirms (whether or not it is said/thought aloud) something before rejecting another, whether that affirmed idea is tacit or not. Perhaps, perhaps not. I just look forward to teasing it out.

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