Sunday, November 4, 2012

On Unconditional Love

Here's an excerpt from a provocatively-titled article by Dr. Michael Bressem, published in

...the greatest popular myth permeating Christendom is the false idea that love should be unconditional. Somewhere every Sunday, there is a Protestant minister proclaiming from the pulpit that we should be loving our spouse, our children, and our neighbor unconditionally, because God loves us unconditionally. Yet try as you might, you will not find the word “unconditional” within any of the books of the Bible, nor will you find the concept of “unconditional love” within the writings of the Church Fathers. The problem is not just that unconditional love is a teaching alien to our Christian Tradition, but the concept is potentially destructive to our relationship with God and humanity.

First, regarding the specific argument (and I know that the author doesn't rest his or her case exclusively on it), "you will not find the word 'unconditional' within any of the books of the Bible", the first question that comes to mind is, "Is he therefore a unitarian?"

More importantly, there's an obvious distinction between unconditional love and unconditional tolerance (separate concepts which the author conflates). Punishing one’s child is (if Godly) motivated by love and intended to bring about the child’s repentance.  What changes is not the parent’s love, but the particular expression of it. Would the author agree with this (except, perhaps, on a semantic level)? Maybe. But I’m inclined to see this as shock theology, and I pray that it misleads no one.  Consider the ease with which people, deluded by pride, will end friendships and even marriages with those who supposedly failed to meet their interpersonal responsibilities (the fulfillment of which is the basis on which love should supposedly be conditioned).