Unconditional Love

The “Good Samaritan” by Chinese Artist He Qi

We often hear that God loves us unconditionally, and that we are called to love everyone we meet in the same way.  Matthew 22:37 & 39 give us the two Great Commandments, which are founded upon this principle: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ and  ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  St. Paul dwells on this topic in the well known “Love Chapter” of First Corinthians (1 Cor 13).

Unconditional Love is central to the Christian Gospel.

But, what is “Unconditional Love”?

Recently, I’ve been reading “Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason” by Alfie Kohn, an interesting and informative book that seeks to apply science and reason to the raising of children.  The book is fascinating, and not just because it uses convincing science and logic to throw many cherished myths about raising children right out the window. 

What struck me in reading Kohn’s work is his thoughts on what “Unconditional Love” means, and it’s importance in becoming the well rounded, stable and (spiritually) healthy individuals we are meant to be. 

For one, he points out that if we demonstrate our love for another only when we meet their expectations, then our love is conditional.  Unconditional love “doesn’t hinge on how they act, whether they’re successful or well behaved or anything else.”

He also states that if we love children just as they are, then they learn to “accept themselves as fundamentally good people, even when they screw up or fall short.”  This in turn helps them to be freer to accept other people just as they are, and helps them to flourish, instead of being lost in a sea of judgment and rigidity.

Kohn also says that “Conditional parenting is based on the deeply cynical belief that accepting kids for who they are just frees them to be bad because, well, that’s who they are.”  This is true of conditional love of any sort.  Paul says it best, in Romans 7:22-24: For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”

In other words, we are inherently good (or, at least we yearn to be “good”) says Paul – and Kohn – and Jesus.  But, if we do not learn to love unconditionally, if we choose to see the flaws in others before we see what God sees in them, then we are allowing the sin that is in our flesh (as Paul describes it) to obscure the goodness within us, and within others.  We then fail to love others unconditionally, as we are called to do, because we  have not learned to see beyond what a person does to embrace who they are – a beloved child of God, just like everybody else, including us.

Ultimately, “…The choice between conditional and unconditional parenting is a choice between two radically different views of human nature.”  Are we essentially economic robots – our behavior is purely the learning that love is earned in return for correct behavior?  

If we are primarily automatons that require incentives to behave well, then how can we be authentic people – authentic in terms of understanding who we are, and authentic in our dealings with others?  Our love is conditional if we accept others only when their behavior is acceptable.  This also means that we can only accept ourselves if the person we seem to be meets whatever standard we’ve set for ourselves.  We will be distancing ourselves from God’s unconditional acceptance of that inner person we try so hard to hide from everyone else, including ourselves.

Why do we need to create a false “self” that others will find acceptable?  When we do so, we can never be the person we are meant to be – we will always be a façade, a mask behind which we hide (and often lose) our true selves in the name of finding acceptance.

Kohn goes on to say that “Unconditional parenting insists that the family ought to be a haven, a refuge … [that love] does not have to be paid for in any sense.  It is simply and purely a gift …. to which all … are entitled.”

This is echoed throughout the Bible, and especially the New Testament.  God is seen as “our Father.”  We are called children of God, and members of the “Family of God.”  Paul says it in a different way at times, describing us as members of the “Body of Christ.”  God’s love is a gift, one that will never be taken away, one that is always there, not given as a result of anything we’ve done.

All of these biblical metaphors reflect an understanding of the importance of accepting and loving others unconditionally; and understanding that they reflect how God loves us.  “The other” is part of who we are, and so we must learn to love others unconditionally if we are to learn how to love ourselves in the same way, and learn how to accept the unconditional love of God which is already there, waiting for us.

“Love your neighbor as yourself” is not just about learning to love your neighbor, but also about learning to love yourself.

Love!

– Allen

Copyright (c) 2014, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved.  I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as you are not seeking (or gaining) financial benefit for doing so, and as long as proper credit for my authorship is given. (e.g., via a credit that gives my full name and/or provides a link back to this site – or just email me and ask!)

The Nature of Love

shutterstock_124493413It seemed appropriate on this, Valentines Day, to reflect on the nature of Love.

In Christian Scripture, the Apostle Paul’s First Epistle to Corinthians (chapter 13) is known as the “Love Chapter.” I quote it in full here…

1If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

The thing I observe about Paul’s eloquent prose is that it talks about how Love is at the core of the Christian message.  Without it, says Paul, Christianity is nothing, and our words meaningless.

In fact, in reflecting upon the Gospels I do not recall a single instance where Jesus limits the ways in which we are encouraged (or allowed) to love others.  Instead, like Paul, Jesus focuses us on the importance and centrality of Love, often being an example to us of how to love others, and how our love for the other must be grounded in our Love of God.

I remember the first time I saw a young couple passionately kissing, when I was an early teen, I think.  It was a new thing for me – an unfamiliar sight, something I was not comfortable with, something that unnerved me more than a little bit.  I remember thinking “Ewwww!”  … I’m sure most of us have had similar experiences!

Continue reading “The Nature of Love”

Love

I often ponder, why do I feel a call to Ministry?  Frankly, why would anyone?  Why become a Pastor in a society where Christianity is losing influence and is declining in the face of shrinking and aging congregations, often in buildings that are also aging and located in less than ideal locations?  Why be in a profession where many congregations struggle just to keep the doors open, let alone provide a livable salary for their pastor?  Why become a pastor in a society where many people have little (if any) knowledge of the Bible and what it contains, who have little or no idea of what Christianity really is about?  Why be a religious leader in a society where many (if not most) in the society we live in believe religion is obsolete and irrelevant?

The answer to all these questions is Love.

Love is an inescapable part of what makes us human.  Without love, we would loose that which makes life a journey of hope rather than of despair.  Without love, we would cease to be human.  Paul said it best (of course) in First Corinthians 13:2, “…and if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” Love is an outgrowth of relationship: our relationships with each other, even our relationship with ourselves, and especially our relationship with Christ.

After many years of exploring many different varieties of Christianity and some other faiths, I have found that the place for me that best expresses and supports these three sets of relationships (with self, man and the Eternal) is Christianity, and especially my particular denomination, which emphasizes our individual relationship with God within the context of our relationship with our local Congregation.

So, I am seeking to become a Pastor because I am driven by love: love for others, love for my church, and love of God.  As a Pastor, I see one of my major tasks as being a conduit, or perhaps an advisor: helping others develop stronger, healthier, more vibrant relationships in all of these areas, to help them become surrounded, filled and even pouring out love. I feel this aspect of religion is very relevant in today’s world, where relationships are becoming fewer, shorter in duration, and more likely to be indirect and distant (such as through Facebook) than face to face.  Our faith in God and membership in a Community of Faith brings meaning and value to our lives; it enables us to love.  Too few people in today’s world know where to turn to fill this need we all have for relationship and love in our lives.  Too few have any idea that Faith is the answer.

In other words, being a Pastor is not about me: it’s about my faith, my congregation and my love for others.  It’s about walking together in the here and now, and in so doing, setting our feet onto the path God has set for our journey into the future; and helping others learn that this same path can be for them, too.

 

Copyright (c) 2011, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved.  I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as you are not seeking (or getting) financial benefit for doing so, and as long as proper credit for my authorship is given (via mention of my name on your site, or a link back to this site).