It’s a pretty enough morning. I can hear the birds out my window telling each other something like that while I sit here at my computer with a perfectly decent cup of coffee. For anyone who may be wondering, it is, of course, a cup of French pressed Black Butte Gold roasted by Sisters Coffee Company. I like it so much that I even sent some in a small thermos with Carey to work today for her boss. The attached note said that no one should have to drink random coffee from Safeway, which is what the lady’s husband bought instead of Sisters coffee! I figure she’ll get a chuckle out of it. She does prefer some of the medium roasts put out by Sisters Coffee, I believe.

As entertaining as talking about coffee may be, I suppose I should move on to unconditional love. A friend mentioned it a few weeks back and got me thinking about it. She said she wasn’t sure it existed. I told her I wasn’t sure about its existence, but that I was pretty sure that people who invoke it (especially in some sort of conflict) are trying to get you to suck up the consequences of their bad behavior. That wasn’t a very nice thing to say, but it has unfortunately been my experience. This made my mind start turning over a couple of things, which I thought I’d explore here. 1) What is unconditional love, particularly as demonstrated by God? And 2) if it does exist, does God’s version differ from what we see people commonly practice?

Like I said, what I’ve seen a lot of is that people who want to claim unconditional love from another person are the people who just did something rather awful to that person and want out of the consequences. In that case, unconditional love is the “Get out of jail free!” card. They’ve got free license to misbehave without having to worry about what sort of damage they might be doing. The people who are trying to practice unconditional love often seem to have trouble placing boundaries. They get stomped and trampled by people less principled or idealistic while believing they have to take it because love is unconditional. They’re busy turning that other cheek. Do either of these positional extremes sound like the love of God?

Maybe we should take a look at some definitions. Merriam-Webster says unconditional means “not conditional or limited : ABSOLUTE, UNQUALIFIED.” The thesaurus provides some interesting synonyms, too, if you care to take a look. Unconditional means pretty much what I expected. It’s without condition or limit. That’s pretty straightforward and simple, which is not to be confused with easy. It sounds a lot like Romans 8:38-39, which says that nothing can separate us from the love of God.

Well, then, what is love? The dictionary has a lot to say about it, so if you want to look it up, go for it. I’d rather go back to I Corithians 13, especially since we’re talking about God’s love.

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8 Love never fails.

A lot of this seems pretty straightforward to me. Patience, kindness, unselfishness, humility, honor, and so on are all things you’d expect to see in love, right? Those even seem like they might meet the conditions for unconditional. In fact, we could build a case for making unconditional love out to be just what I described earlier: it’s the get-out-of-jail-turn-the-other-cheek card. No consequences! No boundaries! Woot! Free love!

There is a massive problem with that, though. To make it work, we’d have to start with the scissors in Genesis and clip out some serious chunks of it. After we hacked up Genesis, we’d have to keep going through the rest of the Bible, too. The story of the first of men repeats its theme throughout our history.

*cue ominous music here* Dun-dun-dun!

Genesis tells us that not long after the beginning, there were these two people, Adam and Eve. They got to spend time walking around with God in the Garden of Eden. What a fellowship that must have been, to walk in the beauty with God Himself! Do you suppose they stopped to admire a butterfly’s wings, or to watch a sunset, or to appreciate the lithe muscle powering the cheetah’s stride? Life was perfect. Adam and Eve had only one restriction. They were not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. With a little persuasion from a serpent form named Satan, they disobeyed God. That disobedience got them tossed out of paradise, and it created a separation between Creator and created that still exists thousands of generations later! That doesn’t sound to me like God simply ignores disobedience or other bad choices. It doesn’t sound like there are no consequences. Does that mean He no longer loves us? Does that moment mark the sudden death of unconditional love or prove that unconditional love does not exist and perhaps never did?

Personally, I doubt it proves any such thing. Again, what is love? When I scroll back up to take a look, it’s patience, kindness, unselfishness, and all that. If I’m honest, I can’t say that God’s treatment of Adam and Eve was unloving, or that His love of them (His patience with them, His kindness toward them, etc.) was conditional upon their kissing His butt and being good kids. I can say that I don’t much like His actions, or that I don’t wish for something easier, but my dislike or disapproval does not mean God was unloving. To say that, I would have to ignore my friend in Hebrews 12 which says that God will discipline those whom He loves. Love that will employ discipline complicates the simplified view of unconditional love I presented above. That sort of love probably trashes the simplified perspective, actually, because it’s so simplistic that it mistakes boundary and consequence for condition and therefore believes it is unloving to apply boundaries.

It’s the sort of love, I suppose, in which children start out believing. You do what they like, and they love you. You do what they don’t like, and they think they hate you, but their belief or how they feel doesn’t mean that anything you did was not out of love toward them. That perspective is not a bad place to start. I guess it’s just not a good place to stay. Smart kids eventually learn that sometimes the things done by their parents which those kids hated were done to protect and nurture those kids. A love that will discipline, which God claims about His love, will not seem “pleasant at the time, but painful” (Heb. 12:11a), but it is still love and, I think, still meets the conditions for a love that is, at the very least, unconditionally present and active.