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Saturday, April 02, 2005

What is Love Anyway? (Part 2)

So what is Love anyway? If we are called to love others the way God loves us (cf. 1 Jo 4:11), it's important we get the right answer.

Yesterday in Part 1 I drew the conclusion that relationships which are based on conditional love always fall short because they are only as strong as your ability to measure up; and the hardness of this life is a constant reminder of just how frequently we lose our grip.

So it should come as no surprise that God's love for us is not "Conditional Love"- its not a matter of him loving us to the same extent that we love him (if it was, we'd be in deep trouble). But if God's love is not conditional, what exactly is it?

This answer may surprise you... God's love is not unconditional either.

Huh!?!? Yes, you heard me right. God's love is not "Unconditional Love" either, at least not as we're used to thinking of that. Its something much better than that. Let me see if I can explain.

You see, when people talk about God's "unconditional love," they are actually getting the answer partially right - they are realizing that ultimately none of us have anything to offer God; if there is going to be any acceptance for us, it can't be based on our ability to meet the conditions. We're his enemies, for Pete's sake! (Rom 5:10) We're dead in our sins! (Eph 2:1).

Nevertheless, God does accept us. So we tend to use words like "unconditional" to try and capture just how generous he is - he doesn't say, "clean yourself up and then I will love you" - he says, "I love you even though you are a slut and a whore and you are absolutely incapable of cleaning yourself up because you are addicted to your sin."

The only stipulation is for us to believe. So there is a sense in which "unconditional" is a very appropriate term.

But there's a problem with it too. Many times when people say love should be "unconditional" what they really mean is "Stop judging me! Don't say my actions are wrong! I want your love and approval, but I don't want to change my behavior. You should accept me the way that I am!"

And here's where things get sticky. God's love is never content to just leave us where we are - real love rescues.

It's like the wife in Life is Beautiful who demands to get on the train which is hauling her husband and son off to the concentration camp; it's like the father of that same boy who puts a bright face on everything - even his own execution - all to keep his wife and son alive, to keep them hoping, to keep them from giving up.

They do these things because they love, and because they love they cannot bear to see the ones they love remain in bondage. They are willing to do anything to rescue them, even if it costs them their own lives.

We're back to that parental imagery again - real love cares so much it will do whatever it takes to deliver. This is how God loves us - as sons! (Gal 4:4-7) as a husband loves his wife! (Jer 3, Rev 19:7+). Real love draws lines and says I love you too much to leave these wrongs unredressed.

David Powlison puts it like this: "God's love has hate in it too: hatred for evil, whether done to you or by you."

So the fundamental truth in the term "Unconditional Love" is that God's love always receives us just as we are. But the fundamental flaw in that same definition is that God's love is never content to simply leave us in our plight.

Once again, Powlison is helpful:
If you receive blanket acceptance, you need no repentance. You just accept it. It fills you without humbling you. It relaxes you without upsetting you about yourself - or thrilling you about Christ. Its lets you relax without reckoning with the anguish of Jesus on the cross. It is easy and undemanding. It does not insist on, or work at changing you. It deceives you about both God and yourself.

We can do better. God does not accept me just as I am; he loves me despite how I am. He loves me just as Jesus is; he loves me enough to devote my life to renewing me in the image of Jesus.

This is much, much, much better than unconditional! Perhaps we could call it "contraconditional" love. God has blessed me because his son has fulfilled the conditions I could never achieve. Contrary to what I deserve, he loves me. An now I can begin to change - not because I can earn his love, but because I've already received it.
-David Powlison, God's Love: Better than Unconditional (p14).
And that's the crux of it really - the reason God loves us in the first place does not rest in us; it rests in Christ, in what he has done for us. We need not worry about that bond failing, because Christ has completed everything he set out to do. If you want to experience God's favor, you must be in Christ. And that only happens through repentance and faith.

At the same time, we also see how God love really can be upset over our sin. That doesn't mean he witholds his love for us; but we shouldn't be surprised when he calls a spade a spade and even disciplines us from time to time. Just like a loving father will discipline his children. He simply is not content to leave us in our gutters.

That's real love - it's not conditional, but it's not unconditional either. It's beyond conditional, it's contraconditional. That's how God loves us, and that's how we are called to love one another.


At 9:05 PM, April 02, 2005, Blogger Charles said...

I guess this is how I can explain my friendships with my friends. I always thought that it was conditional, but the conditions were just unusual. All I require from my friends is sincerity. There are no conditions. They don’t have “to do” for me, but they do have to at least try to be good or to better themselves. Isn’t that how God sees us? Isn’t that what faith is, sincerely trying to do good in that friendship that you have with God? No one is perfect, even, or should I say especially, the guy in the mirror.

So I like coming over to your house. I love Marilyn’s cooking, good beer, and Cigars. I mean, who doesn’t? But I would still come over even if you just had bad takeout food, Beast, and Dutch Masters. Why? Well, not because of what I learn from you or the fact that I enjoy that you learn from me. I do learn from you and I do enjoy that you learn from me. Not because I have fun. I do have fun. But I know that at the end of the day, you are sincere. That’s how I got past my initial willies of hanging out with people who talk about God a lot more than I’m used to. I trusted that any mistakes that you made in what you were saying were not out of malice, as you trusted the same in me. Were we or are we both perfect in the relationship? Of course not. To this day, I really don’t like your Hunter post. I’m sure there are some things that I’ve said or done that just skin your hide too. But we have always been sincere and truthful, and that is how it has worked.

See, Micah was right, he did feel a Blog coming on. Oh, and for the record, please don’t stop the cooking, the beer, and the good Cigars. Just because I said that I could do without it shouldn’t stop you.

At 5:06 AM, April 03, 2005, Blogger Christian said...

Thanks Charles, that was honest and sincere and I really appreciate it. Sincerity is something I value too, whether in believers or unbelievers.

Along the lines of belief - What makes you so sure you're not already converted?

I'm NOT being patronizing've come a long way since our first discussions, and I'm just wondering if you've ever given that question any thought.

At 3:57 PM, April 03, 2005, Blogger Charles said...

I’ll have to warn you that I am very good at speaking the language of the people around me. Like at work, someone thought that I was a pharmacist. I’ve always pretty much been Agnostic, so I pretty much believe that there is some force driving the Universe, but that force might just be nature and the law of equilibrium or something.

So, I guess what I am saying is that, for the most part, I steadfastly have the same beliefs that I did when I met you, but I just know how to express them better, and I am more intoned with that spirituality, because before, I never had to explain it. All religions have things about them that are the same, because most of the life lessons are the same (in a Humanistic sense). If you think that religion is just a social construct to explain things that are hard to explain, then it is easy to use passages from the Bible or “Christian” language to explain your point of view.

So, long story short, like I said, I always had faith that if there is a God, I will figure it out. I’m still there, and I still don’t believe in the whole Trinitarian Doctrine oo the Divinity of Jesus.

At 5:04 PM, April 03, 2005, Blogger Brandon said...

Dude, Christian. Awesome post.

Very insightful. I agree with what Charlesdog12 says -- that's not too far from how I try to have friendship, but have never been able to express it. I just pissed a friend off this week by trying to lovingly express concern over some worrying changes I percieved in their life. I was, well, sterly rebuked for it, she said she felt judged. And yet I wasn't judging, and I wasn't trying to make the decisions for her, or force her into being different, or threatening the friendship. It was just an honest attempt to share love, and a love that yearns to rescue.

The hard part is understanding what that looks like in our own life. I think nearly all changes in ourself begin with changing how we percieve Father God's love and personality, and you've done a brilliant, wise job in unpacking that. But, how are we as fallen humans to practise a "love that rescues"??

Food for thought and prayer.

At 11:12 PM, April 03, 2005, Blogger Charles said...

Brandon: All that I can say is that it sucks to be a project. Do you really love this person for who they are, or are they a project to you? That is the test, because that is how they test how sincere you are. Will you still be there friend if they do not think the same way you do spiritually? I think that Christian will. In fact, I know he will, for the things that he has told me. Why do you think that she thought that you were judging her? Were you?

This is a longer conversation. I don’t know the details, so I couldn’t comment, but think hard about whether you were judging her or not, or whether it was easy for her to think that.

At 6:09 AM, April 04, 2005, Blogger John Schroeder said...

Really enjoyed this post. Linked to it here.


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