Conditional

conditional

Yes, you read the title correctly.

Last time, I wrote about “unconditional” love and grace.

I want to look at the other side of the coin today, mainly to make clear what that article was not insinuating. It was *not* promoting universalism (the idea that no matter what, everyone is okay in the end). To move on with even a chance of leaving that impression would be a dire mistake.

God’s love is unconditional. At no point do I want to reverse or undermine that idea. It is a core truth, and our freedom depends on knowing and believing it.

Let me say it again. His love is unconditional!

But our relationship with Him is not.

Let me explain.

First, Jesus was very clear when He said “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

Entering into a relationship with God is certainly conditional … conditional on only one thing – the need to trust that Jesus Christ was God and He died for us. But conditional nonetheless.

Second, the quality of our relationship with Him is conditional.

Jesus: “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father and I will love him and manifest Myself to him” (John 14:21).

Paul: “The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9).

So apparently, our actions and attitudes influence not only the existence, but also the closeness of our relationship.

We tend to want to sometimes paint with a broad brush.  Either (1) obedience is key, so everything is conditional – God absolutely won’t bless you unless you have everything in order, or (2) God’s love is completely unconditional, so everything is okay, and God will love and automatically rescue you in the end.

The truth is actually somewhere in the middle.

So…from the top, just to make sure we’ve got it:

Nothing is beyond the reach of God’s love and grace.  We can never mess up so bad that He won’t rescue us (unconditional).

But we have to ask for that rescue (conditional).

And the more we obey, the more precious is our relationship with Him (conditional).

I’m not saying God will bless or withhold blessings based on our actions. Sometimes it works that way, but not as a rule. We can point to lots of biblical examples where God blessed or didn’t bless based on people’s actions. But I can also point to plenty of examples where blessings fell on the dishonest (scheming Jacob, socially deviant Samson) and curses fell on the obedient (righteous Job, humble Ruth). Jesus Himself said that God “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt 5:45).

What I am saying is we will feel more connected to Him, recognize His activity around us, and hear His voice more clearly as we live the way He desires for us to live.

Allow me one more example: Jesus said “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).

A sheep that is standing at the other end of the field and refusing to pay attention doesn’t hear very well. The Shepherd is not deserting him. The Shepherd is not punishing him. But the quality of the relationship is definitely affected.

We have to get away from this image of God as some sadistic bully hovering over us waiting for an opportunity to punish us. We must also not allow ourselves to go to the other extreme of thinking of Him as some washed up pacifist who indiscriminately doles out passes to Heaven.

God is an uncompromisingly just Judge, who loves extravagantly.

He is a pure unconditionally loving Father, who does not abandon His perfect standards.

We can never allow one to cancel out the other. Both coexist, because Jesus reconciled them.

He came to open the door to that one condition that would make the unconditional accessible to all of us.

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Unconditional

Sunset & Sky 064

This word “unconditional” has captured my thoughts recently.

I wonder…do we really know its meaning?

I mean, most of us can give the dictionary definition, but do we really know it? Are our intellects capable of grasping it?

According to dictionary.com, it means “Not limited by conditions; absolute.”

Pretty simple, right? What’s so hard about that? After all, it’s only five words!

Here’s what’s so hard about it:

Everything we know is conditional. Our paychecks are dependent upon the job we do. Holding that job is dependent upon our performance. Investment income is dependent upon choices. Awards are dependent upon achievements. Healthy relationships are dependent upon trust.

None of these things are bad. They are exactly the way it should be.  Our world wouldn’t function fairly or properly otherwise. But the problem is, this conditions us (no pun or irony intended) to have a no-free-lunch mindset in everything.

Then we talk about loving unconditionally, and it all breaks down. We talk about God loving us unconditionally and it just doesn’t compute, because it’s so against what we have learned.

And so we talk about His unconditional love and grace toward those who trust Him. And then almost before we finish the sentence we find ourselves trying to do things to please Him so we can earn His love and grace.

Our ability to understand and fully embrace ‘unconditionality’ is limited because of things like:

  • Fear of vulnerability. To truly love unconditionally means to be completely vulnerable. Love already can bring pain. Unconditional love could leave us open to excruciating pain. So we set conditions in order to self-protect.
  • Inability to see people’s hearts. We simply can’t tell what the other person is really thinking or what is driving them. We have to rely on our interpretation of the outward signs…which may or may not reflect the inner heart that we can’t really see.  To mitigate the risk, we move with caution – and unspoken conditions.
  • Perceived benefit. Really, no matter how we try to avoid it, there is always the “what’s in it for me” factor. This isn’t wrong.  We make decisions in our lives for two reasons: 1) to make our lives better, or 2) to make the lives of the people we care about better (which makes us feel happy or satisfied or accomplished…which equates to making our lives better). We therefore define conditions to measure cost/benefit.
  • Self-preservation. This is not so much a reason as it is the sum total of all the reasons. Self-preservation is the shield against the devastation that could come from vulnerability; it is the insurance policy against unforeseen things in the other person’s heart; it is the mechanism by which we make sure there is some benefit. Self-preservation equates to conditions.

These conditions may be unspoken, unacknowledged, or maybe even unrecognized. But they are there.

God, however, operates on a different level than us:

  • Jesus was willing to make Himself completely vulnerable without feeling threatened (see Philippians 2:6-8)
  • God knows all and understands exactly what is in each heart – and still loves us! (see Psalm 139:1-6, Ephesians 2:4)
  • And He desires a relationship with us above all else. His joy truly comes from relationship with us, and He doesn’t do the dance to make it appear any differently! (see Jeremiah 31:3,  1 John 3:1-2)

This all adds up to the truth that self-preservation does not come into the equation. Our God is capable of – and practices – something that we cannot grasp or replicate. True unconditional love!

How have you experienced this unconditional love and grace? Or have you? Maybe you’ve experienced it but haven’t recognized it. Maybe you never entered a relationship with Him and so have absolutely no point of reference to start with.

Whatever the case, wherever you are in your spiritual journey, this is a prime topic for meditation and prayer.

We may not be able to grasp it completely, but there are depths that are attainable. And as you reach those depths, it will amaze you!