Is unconditional love a biblical concept?

Yes and no. First of all, what is it? Unconditional love is the acceptance of a person without fulfilling any conditions. In other words, it means having affection for someone without setting limits. So, unconditional love means loving someone regardless of their behavior.

This popular idea of ​​unconditional love runs counter to much of what God says in the Bible. This is because humans are imperfect, as evidenced by our improper actions. This is why God has provided laws by which he commands us to live. He did this for our own individual benefit as well as for the general good of society.

For example, God said to the Israelites in the second of his Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt not make an idol… Thou shalt not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing children for the sin of fathers until the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to thousands of people who m ‘love and keep my commandments’ (Ex 20.6 NIV). So, God says that whoever makes an idol and bows down to it or worships it hates it. When the Israelites did this, it made God jealous because they were worshiping something, or someone (demon), other than who was their Creator. Notice that God is saying here that he loves the people who love him and that they love him by keeping his commandments. Thus, this text says that the love of God is conditional in that he loves us when we keep his commandments.

Much of this biblical truth is contrary to what has generally been taught by modern psychology. He says such strict requirements are legalistic and therefore contrary to love and intimacy. Rather, consider the last six of God’s Ten Commandments, which concern human relationships. The fifth commandment says that children are to honor their parents. The rest of the Ten Commandments prohibit murder, adultery, theft, lying and lust. That pretty much sums up the whole gamble of man’s sin against man. If we humans obey these precepts, it will go a long way to help us achieve love and intimacy. We will not get it by accepting the behavior of the other, whatever it is. To do so would plunge society into total chaos, in which there would be no laws. “Everyone would do what is right in their own eyes. Thus, selfishness, hatred, crime and all kinds of injustice would spread. Laws are needed.

Now, to some extent, God loves all men unconditionally even if they break His laws. For example, he provides food to eat and water to drink for the sinner and the saint. Jesus taught his disciples to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” because God “makes his sun rise on the wicked and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (Matthew 5.44) -45). *

Moreover, God loves people unconditionally by providing a remedy for our violation of his laws, and it has everything to do with our experience of intimacy with him and with one another. In a nutshell, it is forgiveness. God will forgive us for our breaches of the law, but this divine forgiveness is also conditional. The condition that God requires in order to forgive us is repentance. That is, we must humble ourselves before God in prayer, confess our sins and thus acknowledge our guilt. And we may need to express sincere remorse if the occasion calls for it. Maybe we should even go to someone we’ve wronged, confess and ask for forgiveness. And in some cases, we may need to give 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 make animal sacrifices on it as a covering (atonement) for sins. But that was only a picture of the ultimate sacrifice for sins 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 our sins if we believe in Jesus dying for us. So God’s forgiveness is conditional.

So where does this idea of ​​indiscriminate “unconditional love” come from? Psychoanalyst Erich Fromm first used this expression in 1934. He later developed it in his best-selling book, The art of loving (1956). Fromm was an atheist who rejected authoritarian government, taught unbiblical self-esteem, and vigorously fought against the Christian faith. Humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers, who was only surpassed by 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 experimented with and promoted the occult and rejected the concept of fidelity in marriage. He was a leader of the, “whatever works for you, do it” idea. Much of the church has accepted the phrase “unconditional love“, if not some of its ramifications, that come from these ungodly men.

There is often truth in popular ideas; it is the same with unconditional love. We humans often need to judge others less and accept them more. “Love the sinner and hate the sin” seems like good advice. (Yet can a person be detached from their actions?) But the “live and let live” philosophy is a half-truth, and it wreaks havoc in society. For example, God established the death penalty for murder, with rules for discovering guilt, but most nations now reject the death penalty.

Or take the wedding. Unconditional love says that a marriage partner must accept her or her spouse no matter what, even if one spouse commits adultery. Now, a single offense like this may not need to end in divorce. But what about serial adultery or repeated physical abuse? Traditional wedding vows provide no remedy for such transgressions, thus appearing to endorse unconditional love. Yet Jesus taught that the victim of adultery has the right to divorce granted by God (Matthew 19: 8-9). Indeed, Moses inscribed it in the Torah of God, at least for men (Deuteronomy 24.1), although this was not the original purpose of God.

Some will undoubtedly intervene, “what about God saying ‘I hate divorce’” (Malachi 2:16). Indeed, it does; yet he divorced Israel (Isaiah 50.1). Why? The Jews constantly broke his laws attached to the covenant he had with them, much like a marriage covenant should be between lovers. Requiring that the marriage continue, no matter what the spouses do, encourages bad behavior that can put lives in danger.

Sometimes we have all gone our own way breaking some of God’s laws. But thank God, his love reaches the most base of sinners. The Bible says that there is no sin that God cannot forgive except the unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit (Matthew 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 20e century, much of the American church was legalistic, advocating the salvation of works. Nowadays, part of the church preaches cheap grace and easy belief. The Bible teaches that salvation comes by faith, but faith that works (James 2:26).

The Scriptures say that God is “intimate with the upright” (Proverbs 3.32 KJV). The book of Psalms begins: “Blessed are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked [from men like Erich Fromm and Carl Rogers] but their pleasure is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night ”(Psalm 1: 1-2). And Jesus said to his disciples: “Those 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, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words ”(John 14.21-24).

Unconditional love is opposed to justice. Ask the average person who has been severely abused and they will likely tell you, and rightly so, that the culprit should be punished for their crime. Government laws are necessary for the preservation of a civil society. Without them, it would be chaos.

Unconditional love is contrary to an important role in the prophetic tradition. The prophets of Israel are well known for repeatedly rebuking the nation and warning it of the impending judgment of God.

Yes, unconditional love is also contrary to God’s judgment. At the final judgment, when God causes angels and wicked men to be cast into the lake of fire, he certainly will not love them unconditionally.

And there is no reason to fear a God who loves unconditionally. In contrast, the Bible says that “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.

Not only does God institute laws for the betterment of society, he punishes offenders to try to convince them to reform themselves. It works for some and not for others; yet God inculcates justice by punishing evil.

This is all really just common sense. All over the world, human societies have legal systems that include a police force and courts that enforce civil laws. A successful society cannot survive without them. Again, the only alternative is lawlessness.

In short, the unconditional love of God has been 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 extent keeps the commandments of God and of his Christ. But we all know that in this life none of us are perfect; we all still sin.

* All scripture references are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), unless otherwise noted. See also the post of 02/15/2015 entitled “Should Christians Forgive Others Unconditional?”