Love Without Conditions
“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” — 1 John 4:16-18
Everything we do can be boiled down to being motivated by fear or love. Our actions are guided by either the desire to avoid the discomfort or pain of rejection or to experience the joy and fulfillment of being embraced. Living by fear can often appear the easier, safer choice than choosing the risk, the vulnerability of living out of love.
This is especially true when our impulse to love and be loved becomes shrouded by uncertainty. We worry the affection we express will go unrequited. We grow anxious that any intimacy and tenderness we find will inevitably result in something we lose. We are haunted by any mistakes we make, of failing to live up to expectations, as becoming the possible grounds for a relationship to end.
Love like this—love driven by fear—is love based on stipulations. It is love given in order to gain—to gain a sense of security or wholeness. It is devotion bound by the caveats of performance. It is adoration that soon proves to be fickle as it is offered or withheld based on comparison and competition—of being “good enough” or “better than.” It is a passion that flickers and eventually dims as feelings change or needs aren’t being met. It is a commitment only as strong as the strings by which it is attached—explicitly or implicitly. This kind of love, ultimately defined by our self-interest, is the love we talk of falling in and out of without rhyme or reason.
But this is not true love. The love we need, the love that is perfect and drives out fear, is love without conditions. It is affection lavishly poured out, not according to percentages or the reconciliation of a balance sheet. It is love that reaches beyond comparison or competition—embracing all of us without discrimination or condemnation of our weaknesses and flaws. Love like this does not ever fade or burn out but endures even when expectations aren’t met, even when trust is broken, and even in our moments of failure, defeat, and shame.
The possibility of such ardent fidelity comes not from within but from above—from our Creator. It derives from the character of the Author of Life, who brings humankind into existence not based on any divine need or reciprocal benefit but purely out of loving-kindness. Even though it is freely given, we often test the limits of God’s endearment toward us—even going so far as to insist we can exist, we can endure by our own devices. But even as we act like rebellious children, our Creator remains steadfastly committed to us. Despite our continually misplaced affections and repeatedly renewed and yet still broken promises of adoration, God does not respond as a jilted and vengeful lover.
Instead, God does the unthinkable, the unimaginable, to reinforce the unchangeable nature of God’s fondness and dedication to humanity. Refusing to remain at a safe distance, our Creator pursues us in the flesh. Coming down in the person of Jesus Christ, God does not repay the infliction of many wounds by striking back in kind but rather turns the other cheek. With open hands willing to be stretched seemingly to their breaking point on a Cross, God tenderly forgives us for always breaking God’s heart. But this divine passion, ultimately expressed through the service and sacrifice of Christ, proves to be even stronger than death itself. And thus, this love is revealed to be a love that can absorb anything thrown at it, a love from which “nothing will be able to separate us” (Romans 8:39).
This love that “keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Corinthians 13:5) also asserts no basis in terms of rights. The power of such dedication rests in it being freely pledged rather than forced by guilt or obligation. Such unconquerable fidelity cannot be earned or gained. Love like this can only be given by our Creator and received by us as God’s creation. But such unqualified and lavish affection is not for us to hoard for ourselves. Divine love is intended, given to us, to flow outward, from God through us to each other.
To deny such tenderness and compassion to a fellow human being is to reject our Creator’s abiding affection for us. This is not a condition for being embraced by God; it is the natural, inevitable consequence of living out of our Creator's abiding affection for us. “We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar” (1 John 4:19-20).
While it may seem counterintuitive, loving unconditionally is demanding. More than a feeling, more than simply a choice, unconditional love is a commitment to will the good of another no matter the circumstances. It is an unflinching promise for the future that begins in the present. It is the willingness to be present, to walk alongside, and if necessary, to carry each another amid what remains yet unknown.
The costly nature of such unadulterated love can often seem beyond our grasp. On our own, try as we may, it is. But thanks to the grace of God, who not only loves but is love itself, who imparts such unrivaled delight upon us as a gift, we can both experience and share true love with each other—love without conditions.
撰寫: Chris Tweitmann
攝影: Laura Barry