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.
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