More on Unconditional Love

Photo of Double Rainbow by Shirin McArthur

Editor’s Note: Last week’s post by Shirin McArthur suggested that our culture has perhaps distorted the notion of unconditional love. Through an exploration of both modern views and Christian teachings she explores unconditional love. I found her post challenging. From one perspective, it helped me with my ongoing debate about whether I “love enough” or at my darkest moments whether I am capable of love at all. From my faith perspective, I recognize that to believe I can love perfectly is to believe I am God or the divine which I clearly am not. Yet there is this hunger to be connected, to be in LOVE and to share this LOVE with those close to me and those I don’t know. While not necessarily an easy topic, I consider exploring our notions of what love is and isn’t a central question for Critical Conversations. I am grateful to Shirin for sharing her views and jump-starting this discussion. I am grateful to my friend and neighbor Mark Docken for spontaneously sharing his beliefs about the topic. Mark, a retired Lutheran minister, shares the perspective from his Christian faith perspective. I invite you to share your notions about “unconditional love” and love more generally through the comments section at the end of this post or in an email to me at [email protected]. Love is our path to more perfect unions and communities and more peace. It is a topic worth exploring.

God is unconditional love, uncaused love, pure gift love.  God’s love is God emptying God’s self for the sake of creation, into creation. God is unconditional love, self-giving love.

And since God is a God is in the midst of creation, then unconditional love exists in creation, at its very core.  And as a follower of Christ, I believe it can exist for me and through me.  “For it is not I who lives, but Christ who lives in me” (Phil 2).  The reason we may love unconditionally is because of God’s love for us.  I love because God first loved us.

The nature of this love is a self-forgetfulness, in which the focus is on the other. There is that blessed moment when it’s not about me.  One is emptied of oneself, which at the same time is a filling of the self (“my cup overflows”-Psalm 23).  There is a simultaneous dying and rising.

Nevertheless, there is also another reality and that is sin. Because of sin, we are never able to fully enter into this divine love/self-giving love. We live in a self-giving love that is both now and not yet.  Drawing upon C. S. Lewis’ book The Four Loves, our natural, yet conditional, human loves of affection, friendship, and romance, which of themselves are gifts of creation for community, become turned in upon myself and become a kind of captivity.

Nevertheless, in this now/not yet time we are given the yearning for self-giving love. And the yearning for such love is itself a kind of transformation. There are moments in a marriage when we love the other not because of what he/she does for you, but because what you are able to give to them.  There are moments when you love a friend not because of fun they bring to you, but because you know that nothing will ever separate us. There are moments when you love a son or daughter, not because of some parental instinct, but because of the pure gift they are to us.  There are moments when you love someone poor or oppressed because you know Christ loves them.  There are moments when the veil flutters and we catch a glimpse of the wonder of unconditional love.