Thursday, January 28, 2010

"Unconditional" Love?

In a priesthood meeting I attended while traveling last week, someone talked about the unconditional love we feel for our children, and how it is patterned after the unconditional love our Father in Heaven feels for us.

I had two issues with the statement, and felt strongly enough to derail the class for a few minutes to get them on the table. (It was ok – it was one of those weeks where the teacher hadn't shown up, so we were getting an impromptu lesson anyway, so I didn't feel like I was detracting too much.)

The first issue was that I remembered an Ensign article from Elder Nelson a number of years ago called Divine Love. (Ok, I didn't remember that it was called "Divine Love," and it appeared longer ago than I remembered, but I did remember the article.)

In that article, Elder Nelson says, "While divine love can be called perfect, infinite, enduring, and universal, it cannot correctly be characterized as unconditional. The word does not appear in the scriptures. On the other hand, many verses affirm that the higher levels of love the Father and the Son feel for each of us—and certain divine blessings stemming from that love—are conditional" (emphasis from the original).

The other thought I had was that I don't love my children all the same all the time. (Gasp!) Sometimes I get angry with one of my kids. Sometimes one of them hurts me or his or her mother, and it upsets me. And at that moment, I don't bubble over with love.

Now these two things are very different from one another. The first, taught by an apostle, is a clearer understanding of how God is (compared with how we want Him to be). I appreciate that he says that God's love is "universal," but not "unconditional." That says that it's available to everyone, but the results of that love, the blessings, are not for free.

In his article he then explains that the fruits of God's love are His blessings, and they are not meted out regardless of our behavior – those blessings are very much conditional upon our doing what we need to do in His eyes. Fortunately our Father is also merciful and grants us the opportunity to make corrections when we need to, and as soon as we do, says King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon, He blesses us.

The second –- my uneven love for my children -- is not a divine quality. It is the opposite of universal love, which I believe I should have for my children. If I really love them, then rather than getting angry and behaving badly (humanly, but still badly), I should allow them the consequences of their poor choices minus my not-so-righteous indignation. I might impose those consequences ("you came home late, so you can't use the car for a week") or someone else might ("you ran the red light; you pay the fine"), but allowing the consequence follows (I believe) the pattern of our Heavenly Father's love: we can learn from our mistakes.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I don't think I can say I have universal love for my children if I'm angry at them. In the moment of anger, I don't feel love. I know some may gloss over this and say, "well of course you love them; you were just upset." My point is that when I'm in that moment of anger, it's not love I feel, no matter how much love I feel the rest of the time.

Well, of course I'm not perfect (and if you think I might be, just ask my 13-year old; he keeps a list, which was handed down to him from his older siblings…). And the Good News is I can change. And it's something I work at all the time. And that opportunity comes because of my Father's divine love for me.

- Paul


  1. Great explanation. The Scripture I keep going back to is Jesus' explanation, in John, of the vine and branch. God's love is there for anyone who wants it, but to receive it, we have to a) accept it and b) keep on doing what we need to do, to maintain a relationship with Him. Ultimately, it isn't God who cuts us off from Him; we cut ourselves off. If, like the vine, we're cut off, then we can't receive His love.

    PS: I sent you an invitation to the other blog.

  2. Great way of looking at the vine reference.

    (No sign of the invitation, BTW.)


  3. I resent it. I wonder what happened to it. It might have gone to your spam folder?

  4. If we try to be a little less philosophical, I'd say that Father loves all of his children, he just can't show it fully to those, who reject him. I'm fairly certain, that he feel some pain for the people that reject his love; who denounce his only begotten. I could see him crying over those children like I would cry over my kids if they rejected my love.

    I would like to be able to say, that I know that I love my children the same way; I would love them no matter what they do. I haven't had to prove it, for which I'm truly grateful. Our kids are beautiful people, good, upstanding people, although one of them is less active.

    God the Father is not without passions. He is a person, who feels things. He feels pain when his children reject him, but he doesn't "kick them out" — he just can not let them in. We hear about the "wrath of the Almighty God," but what does it mean. Wrath is not the opposite of love, indifference is.

  5. I'm glad you can say you'd love your children no matter what they do. I am just not there yet. I do love my children. And I don't love all the things they do. And I try to love them (in spite of all that). I'm a work in process.


  6. CJ: The invitation came through this time (which means, I didn't lose it...) Thanks.

  7. Velska,

    Coming back to your comment, I think you're consistent with Elder Nelson's remarks. I think one of the points he was trying to make was around the word "unconditional", which suggests that we'll get blessings no matter what. God's love is universal, suggesting that he does love all his children. But the blessings are not unconditional. Elder Oaks' recent conference talk also underscored this message.

  8. Yes, you point out the very thing I have against the creeds of the Apostasy.

    God is not Omnipotent, All-Powerful. There are rules that he voluntarily follows, just like we'll have to follow them of our own free will and choice.

    One of those rules is, that he can not totally disregard the rules. That means, that, although Christ's Atonement was infinite, he can not give us blessings that we refuse to accept. It's as simple as that. We won't be dragged to Celestial Kingdom kicking and screaming like little kids!

    I am no judge, so I won't start separating goats from the sheep, the chaff from the wheat etc. but I know that if we fight against the Lord's will he can not give us his full blessings.

    I have thought, that even the "outer darkness" that has been talked about as the place of punishment so much as it is going along with the wishes of his children. And they won't, in the end, pay the full price of their sins, since they are not tortured by eternally burning flames as much as their own disappointment in themselves. (I surely hope I won't have to say "ourselves"!)

    Back to loving my children: I hope I don't have to prove my love in extreme circumstances; I might prove weaker than I think. But so far so good, even if they don't always do what I wish they did.

  9. I would say that we can have it both ways. God does love all of us unconditionally And God by law of justice can only allow those of us into his presence who repent.

  10. Mitch,

    I can see why you might say that. In the OP I've quoted Elder Nelson as suggesting there's a difference between "universal" love and "unconditional" love. Maybe it's parsing words, but what I read from Elder Nelson, and I appreciate the difference, is that universal love applies to all God's children: everyone is covered. But since "unconditional" suggests we'll be rewarded no matter what we do, it runs counter to the teachings of the Savior, which Elder Nelson nicely lays out in his article, quoting primarily from the Old and New Testaments.

    As I understand it, it is the Lord's mercy through his Atonement which allows us to repent to overcome the law of justice; that is, Jesus, in his mercy, paid for our sins on our behalf, if we chose to repent. (Why more of us don't take him up on the offer I don't know.)

    Thanks for reading!