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!