John Free, in an article titled “Unconditional Love and Covenant Love: A Comparison” (Leaven, III:4, 1995) has pointed out that never does a canonical scriptural writer refer to God’s love as “unconditional.” God’s love for humans flows despite our sin and so is generally without that condition, yet, on the contrary, Free compellingly paints God’s love as being character-based, rather than having any reference—positive or negative—to condition or status.
The love of God is, and remains, covenant love. It is selective. It is focused. It endures. It nurtures growth. It is calculating and creative. It is entirely beneficent. It is disciplinary and corrective. It is steadfast, eternal. It is natural. It is expressive of who God is. It is consequential. It is promissory. And, it is conditional.
Covenant love is what a person experiences as he enters into relationship with God as God has ordained it. Unconditional love is what a person experiences as he enters into relationship with God as humankind imagines it.
Free finds that the apparently young notion of “unconditional love” is more related to Carl Rogers’s¹ influential counseling theory than to biblical theology.
We do have a proclivity to leap to unwarranted assumptions about God, about scripture, about church, etc. For instance, the “worship service” institution is not discussed in scripture as such, nor is God painted as “Trinity” per se. The presumption of an “unconditional” quality of God’s love for you and me appears infinitely more significant than the other two presumptions.
I was drawn by John Free’s above depiction of God’s love, along with his cogent comparison of 1) unconditional love and 2) covenant, character-based love.
¹ One of Rogers’s three centerpieces for counseling practice was “respect; unconditional positive regard” for the counselee.