Photo above: The Hertford Bridge in Oxford, England. Used by Permission. © Tom Ley 01302 782837

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Unconditional Love

By Gary Roberts
Robertson School of Government

We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, 'I love God,' yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. 1 John 4: 19-21 NIV

Do you possess an inborn need to receive love? Most of us would answer that rather basic question with a resounding “yes.” However, as with many issues in the Kingdom of God, the conventional answers fail to receive endorsement by careful review of scripture. An excellent book on the subject is by Edward T. Welch “When People Are Big and God is Small.” The thesis of the book is that when we need people more than we love them, it creates the idolatry of codependency and the fear of man. Modern psychology and many Christian psychologists embrace the “loving cup” view of human nature that states “wounded and broken” we become if God and others fail to fill our vessels with love, support, and encouragement. Is this image correct?

Welch makes a convincing argument otherwise. First, we must grasp our creation in God’s image. God loves purely and perfectly not because of His need to fulfill an unmet desire, but because “God is love” and love is His foundational and immutable attribute. God first loved us unconditionally because that is His nature (Seamands, 2004). The trinity embodies this wonderful but mysterious principle. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit exist in a perfect “love triangle,” they give and receive love in a completely self-sustaining and fulfilling relationship. Each member of the trinity grants unconditional love to the other, and in turn, receives unconditional love. This reflects the other great mystery of the universe as God is the “uncaused cause,” setting in motion all other forms of existence and being. As human beings created in the image of God, Adam was given Eve so he could be an image bearer of God and love Eve unreservedly, just as Adam was originally created by God for love and fellowship.

When Adam and Eve sinned, the foundational relationship element of unconditional love was corrupted and reduced to the self-serving and idolatrous love, which ultimately enslaves. We can never achieve Christ likeness by employing the humanistic psychology approach of placing our needs at the center. God calls us to imitate Him by loving others first without conditions. As created beings, we cannot manifest the perfect self-contained love manifested in the Trinity, but the Body of Christ, the church, is the God-given means to develop our ability to grant and receive love. We cannot practice unconditional love without Christ as Lord and the body of Christ to teach and model these behaviors. Our sin nature continually redirects our attention to meeting self-needs and desires through the many forms of counterfeit love. This is why the family is “ground zero” in terms of spiritual warfare. If our parents and families fail to model and practice Christ-like unconditional love, Satan instills spiritual, physical, and emotional wounds that lead us to medicate our pain with love counterfeits further accentuating the power of sin over our lives. We become needy, fearful, and develop a warped sense of self-esteem.

However, the solution the world offers is to convince us that the problem is not our sinfulness, but the fact that others are not meeting our needs or we are the victims of circumstances and outside forces. What is the solution? The first step is to admit our brokenness and our own inability and that of others to cure what ails us. We must take responsibility for the sin, forgive those who hurt us, and ask for forgiveness for our sin and the dysfunctional means that we use to cover our pain and shame. God will meet our legitimate needs (not all our desires), and He will give us the love and security so we can love Him and others without condition. This is clearly an ongoing, long-term process imperfectly completed in this life, but the more “we learn to need others less and love them more” as Welch states, we grow in freedom.

These lessons are important for the workplace as well. Just like Jesus, our calling is to work with excellence, serve others, and love them unconditionally. Even if others treat us unfairly, our self-esteem and identity does not depend upon the attitudes, actions, and support of others. They can no longer manipulate our reactions. We are hurt, but the arrows and stones do not break us. We receive deep comfort from Christ for the wounds, and are able to move forward. As servant leaders, we love and encourage others and hold them accountable. We hope that others will model the Golden Rule and return the love, accountability, and encouragement. When this occurs, the workplace is blessed. When others fail us, we reject anger and bitterness, pray for our brothers and sisters, practice forgiveness, and move forward. We then achieve an amazing level of freedom and love as we exhibit the image of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

To God be the Glory!

Seamands, D. A. (2004). Healing for damaged emotions. Paris, Ontario: Cook Communications Ministries.

Welch, E. T. (1997). When people are big and God is small. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing.

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