Thursday, February 21, 2013

Unconditional Love--No Asterisk

Few of us really believe in God’s unconditional love.  We accept it as true doctrinal fact, correct orthodox belief, an accurate description of God’s nature, but few of us, if any, really believe in it.  We are always putting an asterisk next to it.  Like this:

“God’s Unconditional* Love.” 

* God is also, of course, a God of wrath and justice and must therefore punish unrepentant sinners.
*Don’t forget, however, that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, even though someplace else in the Bible someone said that perfect love casts out fear.
*The Jews, of course, rejected God’s Messiah, so God has rejected them as his covenant people.
*Besides all that, I find that I am continually disappointed in myself, in my lack of discipline, my laziness, my hypocrisy, and the darkness that lurks within, and can’t imagine that God, who knows me better than I know myself, can be any less disappointed.
Here is a spiritual exercise: write down all your asterisks to God’s unconditional love.  All the qualifiers, exceptions, caveats, and yes-buts that you have to God’s unconditional love.  Write them all down, and then write this: “The word ‘unconditional’ allows no qualifiers, exceptions, caveats, or yes-buts.”  Because it doesn’t; the moment you put an asterisk by it, it is no longer unconditional.
Except for rare, graced moments we still believe in a God who is hyper-serious, wired, intense, pained, disappointed in us, disappointed in the world, and far from unconditionally loving and forgiving.
It is true that God is often portrayed in the Bible as wrathful, that he does mete out punishment, that he is to be feared, and that, yes, he is probably disappointed in each of us, sometimes profoundly so, but it is time that we stop placing these things in tension with, if not in opposition to, God’s unconditional love.  All of these are true within the context of God’s unconditional love.
The fear of the Lord is not the kind of fear we have when walking down a dark alley, or turning the corner only to be confronted by a gang of thugs, or when you have to tell the boss that your project is over budget and isn’t going to meet expectations.  No, fear of God in its healthy sense is basically love's fear, a fear of not living with the proper reverence and respect before the one we love.  It is the fear of violating love's proper boundaries.
Likewise, God’s justice is different than our justice, which seeks to mollify anger by seeking a punishment which somehow evens the score and balances the scales that Lady Justice holds in her hand.  God’s justice is about restoring relationships, returning things to the way they were meant to be.  It’s the father wrapping his arms around the prodigal’s neck because the family is whole again, as opposed to the older son’s  anger and resentment.  And with God, punishment is never about getting even, satisfying some karma-like concept of justice, or receiving our just  rewards—it’s always about restoration, renewal, and transformation.
And if God is ever disappointed in us, it’s not in a “well, you’ve let me down again”  way, it’s more because he knows what we can be, and he wants so desperately for us to stop pursuing dead ends and to become what he created us to be as quickly as possible.
But the promise and the power of unconditional love is that God will never give up until we have become the children of God he created us to be.
No, these other things never put an asterisk on God’s unconditional love.  To the contrary, his unconditional love puts an asterisk on them.  
Believe that.

No comments:

Post a Comment