Is God’s Love Unconditional?January 29, 2013 • By Kalila Borghini, LCSW, Spirituality Topic Expert Contributor
Unconditional love is a concept that is bandied about frequently in religious/spiritual and secular contexts. I’ve been thinking of it more frequently as a result of some premarital counseling I recently provided to a young couple. The opinion (and keep in mind it was my opinion) I expressed was that unconditional love was not possible between adults; that all adult love was, in fact, based on certain expectations and requirements. Because adult love comes with expectations and requirements, it is therefore conditional. I also said that the time we are supposed to receive unconditional love is when we are born and are infants. (Hopefully this occurs, but it is not always the case.) Unconditional love occurs between mother and infant, as well as between human and dog and human and God.
I started to reflect on what I had said about God’s love being unconditional and read a few online articles on the subject. The opinions seem split between those who believe it is unconditional and those who don’t.
What I’ve concluded is that it’s a paradox, intentionally so. God’s love is unconditional, but God also has expectations and requirements. If we don’t meet those expectations and strive to fulfill those requirements, God doesn’t stop loving us—but is not happy, and expects us to continue to strive to do better next time. God is also extremely patient and appreciates effort. God does not expect perfection (unlike some humans, who expect it of themselves and thus think they know better than God) because only God is perfect. From that perspective, perfectionism takes on the qualities of narcissism, doesn’t it? (That’s a whole other article.)
So what are God’s expectations and requirements? I suppose that depends on one’s spiritual/religious orientation. As a Yoruba priest, according to God (Olodumare) and the Orisas (the divinities who interact with humans), I am expected and required to: develop good character (Iwa Pele); honor my ancestors; respect the earth; honor and practice the traditions of the faith; and live in gratitude. (There are others, but hopefully you get the point.)
If I don’t do those things, it’s not as if Olodumare and the Orisas will no longer love me, but my life will not turn out well. Things will not happen as expected or hoped for, and there may be unforeseen reversals of finances, health, and relationships. It’s not that I will be punished (as in the concept of being punished for sins), but rather that I will have blocked my own blessings.
Therefore, it makes sense to do what Olodumare and the Orisas want me to do. I know what they want through divination, which takes some of the pressure off me to figure it out alone. Once I have the information, it is my choice to do it or not, but given the consequences, there’s really no other healthy choice.
I have found that since I became a Yoruba priest almost 12 years ago, when I did what I was told to do by the divinities that guide me, my life either improved, changed in a significant way, or took a direction that might have been scary initially but ultimately worked out for the best. When I did not do what I was instructed to do (which wasn’t very often) or dragged my feet, I felt like I had abandoned not only my strongest supporters but myself as well. In a word, I started to become depressed.
Even though my belief system is specific, I believe we are all looking for that unconditional love we may or may not have experienced as infants from our mothers. Unconditional love (even with requirements and expectations) brings with it feelings of serenity and calm, a sense of completeness and wholeness and a hopeful attitude toward life. For those who have found it on a spiritual path, it is the only love that can fill the space left by not getting that love from other humans.
© Copyright 2013 by Kalila Borghini, LCSW, therapist in New York City, New York. All Rights Reserved.
Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org. The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. The view and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.
DarrenJanuary 29th, 2013 at 2:57 PM
My view is that God’s love is not really unconditional. Not because God requires or needs anything from us but because he wants us to do good for our own selves. The belief that His love is unconditional probably comes from people trying to have a pillar of support for themselves no matter what they do or do not do. It is a strong mental support to have such a belief.
Eleni TsitaJanuary 29th, 2013 at 3:26 PM
A very interesting topic and an important one for anyone on a spiritual path, or working with people. I have thought about whether God’s love is unconditional, if so, why is there so much suffering? My intuition about this is that the unconditional love of God may work like the unconditional love of a parent, or the unconditional positive regard of a therapist: IE our intention is for our child or patient to be all they can be, to encourage the development of their full potential. So while we may feel love or compassion for their struggle, we must also step back and let them find their way.
StacyJanuary 29th, 2013 at 4:51 PM
God’s love certainly is unconditional. He sets no conditions or has no requirements from us. Whatever we do we do it for us and not for God. That is because God is abundant. We need God and not the other way around. He loves us because we are His creation, because He made you, because we are His children. But His love for us goes beyond what any parent can give and beyond any conditions or restrictions that we humans apply to each other.
Ira BindmanJanuary 29th, 2013 at 6:32 PM
I’d like to weigh in on this topic. First, I do believe God’s love is unconditional, I.e., patient, hopeful and everlasting. I don’t believe God is “unhappy” with us, when we are human and imperfect but instead understanding that we all (maybe even God too) have our challenges and failings. As someone who considers himself “spiritual”, I believe we all are on journeys that intersect and connect us with others and with the divine. Life is an opportunity to learn and grow, using the circumstances we find and create to make choices that give us feedback as to how we are doing in the process of living. No right answers, no judgments and no errors, since we are always on the path to consciousness.
Kalila BorghiniJanuary 30th, 2013 at 4:23 AM
Thank you all for your thought provoking comments. I’m happy to have inspired this discussion about what is a very complex topic. The unifying thread thus far is that we all believe in an involved God (or higher power if that is your preference) regardless of whether God’s love is conditional or unconditional who is the guide for our lives in myriad ways.
bravoJanuary 30th, 2013 at 5:55 AM
whether god’s love is unconditional or not, unconditional love holds so much promise and hope. it is for the same reason that there will always be that little something about friends that cannot be replaced by a partner. there is always that one friend who has no expectations from you. he or she may not be your best friend but also applies no conditions on you. for some people that friend is god and for some others it is a very generous friend here in earth. either way unconditional love provides so much containment. hard to find but harder to give up looking for!
YaraJanuary 30th, 2013 at 10:46 AM
I definitely agree that adults do not have unconditional love for one another. If you really had unconditional love for your partner, you’d be a complete doormat.
Abby hJanuary 30th, 2013 at 10:49 AM
God’s love is for sure unconditional. When we make mistakes, He is angry with us. But, He wants nothing more than for us to return to his fold and ask Him for forgiveness. God’s love is everlasting and enduring.
B. UndermanJanuary 30th, 2013 at 10:51 AM
All this talk of some god who is all loving and knowing is ludicrous. how would that even be possible? is he like some Santa Claus who knows when you’ve been good or bad? Does he know when you are sleeping and know when you’re awake? Get real people-god is just another in a long line of fairy tales.
CarterJanuary 30th, 2013 at 10:54 AM
Thank you so much for writing on this topic. It seems that so many in this modern age are afraid of mentioning God for fear of being ridiculed and viewed as being odd or a “Jesus Freak.” I love talking about God and religion, and particularly about this subject. God does indeed love us unconditionally and gives us a model to strive for. Of course we can’t love unconditionally-that would make us perfect and then we wouldn’t even need God.
Ira BindmanJanuary 30th, 2013 at 10:57 AM
I wouldn’t necessarily say God is “involved” in our daily lives but trusts that we are all striving to improve ourselves in order to return to the Oneness that God represents (no duality). Personifying God in my mind diminishes the concept, just as referring to God as “He” limits the ultimate expansiveness of God. For those with spiritual beliefs, like me, having one religion defining who and what God is or isn’t, creates conflict and disharmony. As was said in “Mars “Attacks”, “Can’t we all just get along?”
Kellie M.January 30th, 2013 at 4:44 PM
As a parent could you watch as your only son, brutally beaten and crucified on the cross for the humans that are causing him this pain. God did this for us. That in my book is unconditional love. He gave us a guild book to go by so we have help in this life and then gave us a an example to follow. He did not make us perfect so does not expect us to be that way. He just wants us to believe in his son and in him, and treat others as Jesus did. People want to dissect what God is all about, but it is simple he is love and there weather you believe in him or not. But if you bring him into your life he will help. If you think about it, what have you got to lose. If God is a fairy tale as they say and there is no life after death then, but if there is a God and you start living your life just believing his son died for your sins and that he loves you. Well everlasting life and love after death sounds pretty good to me.
maryJanuary 30th, 2013 at 11:59 PM
only God can forgive all our mistakes and ignore our shortcomings.like it or not all human relationships are based on likability and investment.it is not so between a God and his creation.He loves us not matter what.
but that in no way means we take Him for granted.He is so kind to us and it is only right that we at least stick to good deeds – not for him but for our own conscience.
lutherJanuary 31st, 2013 at 2:59 PM
I believe in the all powerfull, all encompassing and unconditional love of God. If you don’t have that feeling then what is the use in believing? I mean, it is confroting to me that even though I may sometimes sadden or disappoint others and God with my actions or my words, He is always going to love me for I am His child. I would love to say that I can emulate this but I am human, I have faults, it is impossible for humans to meet that kind of expectation. But I think that if you go through life trying to live up to these standards, to do your best and show love and kindness to others, then God sees that and He knows we are doing our best to serve Him and do His will.
BenJanuary 31st, 2013 at 10:15 PM
I don’t understand this posts word dance around punishment, instead saying that you do not find your blessings? Do you believe, that while your limited moral vehicle is “lost” an omnipotent God could not deliver these blessings? So there is no distinction between being punished, and having your blessings held back against having your “lost” blessings; unless it is only through believing and following the path of your pertinent religious doctrines that everyday happenings become blessings? In short, there is no paradox my dear fellow simply a choice: your God is a vain callous creature who punishes his purposefully inferior creations when they do not hero worship him; or while following a religious faith script, ordinary events are percieved as miraculous blessings akin to an lsd tripping episode.
Kalila BorghiniFebruary 1st, 2013 at 12:46 PM
Thank you all for your input and opinions. Seems that this topic has triggered in some cases very emotional and angry responses. Although I am not addressing anyone in particular, we must always refrain from attacking other peoples’ belief systems. Disagreement is one thing; disrespect is another and that has no place on this blog.
CyndiFebruary 2nd, 2013 at 2:51 PM
I’ve never heard of a Yoruba priest. But I like your philosophy to build peace based on what you have in common, in mutual respect.
In my opinion God the Father’s love is constant, He who loves us with an Everlasting Love, who is so so very lovable.
Yes there’s conditions to experience His authentic love, that’s based on my response to cooperating in union with Him. To focus on love, which fulfills with love, is for my good and for the good of others. God is so patient, slow to anger and so very kind. He’s a gentleman.
Thank you for sharing your faith and giving me the opportunity to answer “Is God’s love unconditional?”
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