When we talk about unconditional love, we are usually talking about the kind of love that God shows us in Jesus. I don’t remember precisely how the subject came up in this recent conversation, but it quickly became about whether or not we as humans are capable of loving each other unconditionally.
Several of us claimed that only God is capable of unconditional love. They suggested that, even though we can approach such levels of love in theory because we are created in the image of God and Jesus demonstrates that humanity can so love, in practice we all have a line beyond which we simply will not go with our willingness to forgive and to be reconciled. That line might be when someone threatens to do or actually does significant harm to us. Or that line might be when someone betrays us to an extent that we simply cannot trust them anymore.
Several others of us stated either that they had experienced unconditional love or that they had expressed such love in very difficult circumstances.
We were fairly certain that we were talking past each other and that we were not unified in our definitions of either the word “love” or of the word “unconditional.” And it occurs to me now that there is another way to approach the discussion which takes into account the concerns of all involved.
Those who were claiming that unconditional love is humanly possible wanted to make the point that it is possible for us to offer a love that is not tied to certain conditions being met. And that is certainly true, at least within certain contexts. The best relationships (friendships, marriages, family) are based on a love that is not conditional, but intentional – and proactive. What I mean is that the best love we offer to others is not based on what they have done for us or on whether or not they love us first, but it is a love that we intentionally initiate whether or not it has been earned or is deserved at that moment.
That is essentially the kind of love which spouses promise to one another in the covenant of marriage. And it is unconditional in the sense that it is not conditioned on certain requirements, but is freely offered to the other even when the other may not be particularly deserving of it.
The concern of those who claimed that only God is capable of unconditional love is that there are circumstances in which it is certainly not advisable, and likely impossible, to offer such love to another person. For instance, a woman who constantly forgives her abusive husband and welcomes him back to the point where he finally kills her would have been well advised not to offer such unconditional love at some prior point.
So it does appear to me that the sticking point in our conversation was on the term unconditional. We can offer unconditional love in the sense that it is intentional and pro-active, not dependent on conditions being just right so that we “feel” like loving the other. But if by unconditional love we mean that there could never be a circumstance when we would stop welcoming the other back into relationship with us, that might not be humanly possible – or at least, in many circumstances, advisable.
I’m curious how you respond to these thoughts. Please take the opportunity to respond with a comment.