Is it really unconditional?

John Free, in an article titled “Unconditional Love and Covenant Love:  A Comparison” (wpid-img_20151115_154219_379.jpgLeaven, 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.

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4 thoughts on “Is it really unconditional?

  1. John Eoff 11/18/2015 / 2:07 pm

    So God’s love is just like that of his creatures? Love the lovable? Is His love for those who enter his covenant, or was His covenant because of his love. For God so loved the world—–or was it the good ones? I can’t agree with Free.

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    • Brian Casey 11/18/2015 / 11:31 pm

      I don’t think it’s a fair representation of John Free’s article to say God’s love is just like that of humans’ love — or that God only loves the lovable. I think the main point he was making viz. “unconditional” love was that it’s an expression that a) doesn’t come from scripture and b) likely comes, at least in part, from a psychological school of thought. My words, not necessarily Free’s, would be that God’s covenant love is something other than what humans can fully comprehend or mirror. It is in a sense unconditional but in another sense based on His character, not on any lack of perception of real conditions that exist. That last phrase might have just muddied the water….

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  2. Steve 11/18/2015 / 6:02 pm

    So this is sort of random, if not serendipitiously providential. Our church has been giving some thought to how we might follow the Christian calendar more intentionally. Often this is done by the Catholics/Anglicans/and others via the RCL (Revised Common Lectionary). Our tribe doesn’t do that; nevertheless, we are looking at it as an option. So…coincidentally you have a picture of an old Leaven magazine–which just happens to have an article about using the lectionary. I have gone to Leaven online and accessed the article (1995). So…just thought I’d let you know how you helped me today–outside of your article. 🙂 Thx!

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    • Brian Casey 11/18/2015 / 11:26 pm

      You’re welcome, I guess. That was not an article I was interested in scanning at this point in my life, although I would have during another time. May it help you in some way!

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