Unconditional Love, Conditional Relationships
Relationships. They’re difficult because they involve people – imperfect people. And it’s usually those we’re closest to who can inject the greatest heartache. Especially in times of struggle, we want to provide support and unconditional love. But in our attempts to be a voice or shoulder of encouragement, can we actually be doing more harm than good? Is it possible that unconditional love can be taken for granted or become enabling?
In extreme cases, such as abuse or addiction, I believe it is possible (and healthy) to love someone deeply but not be able to have a relationship with that person. The reality is that our behavior and choices affect the people in our lives – they can create divisions or deepen bonds. Love may be unconditional. But relationships? I think not!
Take marriage for example – the closest human tie where “two become one.” Every time I attend a wedding and the vows are spoken, I am reminded that this sacred covenant between a couple and God involves promises (i.e. conditions) – fidelity, protection, and honor “in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad.” When these vows are broken, even if love remains, the relationship is fractured and sometimes no longer possible.
I believe the Bible’s first story exemplifies this idea. God not only birthed the world into being with his words, but he created two humans to have dominion over it. In the creation story, God put parameters and boundaries in place – he separated light from darkness, water from sky, and day from night. He also provided instructions to Adam and Eve for their protection and well-being. Even paradise had rules.
But, as the story goes, all it took was one compelling voice to lure Adam and Eve away from God’s plan and to their own agendas. With a bite of the forbidden fruit, their relationship with each other and their Creator was severed. Their initial reaction was to hide from God, but they could not escape his reach. Adam and Eve’s disobedience not only created a separation from their Father, but it resulted in a consequence – eviction and work. “Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken.” (Gen. 3:23) Their life in paradise ended abruptly.
One part of the story that I have overlooked until recently comes a few lines before their expulsion. “And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and his wife, and clothed them.” (Gen. 3:21) God did not abandon Adam and Eve; instead he provided protection and fulfilled a practical need as they entered the real world. Yes, their disobedience had a consequence. Yes, their relationship with God and each other was fractured. But despite their blatant disobedience, God continued to show love to his first children.
I believe unconditional love is possible even when a relationship is not. God is a perfect example, not only at the beginning of time but right now. Today many people do not desire a relationship with God and some even outright reject him, but God is faithful and forever patient. And despite our failures and disbelief, God even sent his one and only son to die for us. If that isn’t a perfect picture of true, unconditional love, I don’t know what is.
“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”