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I hate to be a spoil sport, but someone needs to explain that there is no such thing as "unconditional" love. It's a myth.

It may be that some people have used the term incorrectly to describe something else that is genuine, but the idea that love just pours out in all directions with no restrictions, no discretion, and no limits is just not on. Worse than that, the term "unconditional love" has been used in such a way by many people as to devalue or even condemn genuine love.

A common example of unconditional love is the love of a mother for her children. But they overlook that the first "condition" for such love is that they must be her children. It may not even be a fair condition if it leads to injustices for people who are not her children.

Let's compare the mother to God. Many people claim that the concept of unconditional love comes from God, who loves everybody and who loves infinitely. We are all his "children", so we could say that God (because he is so much greater than us) has the kind of love that a mother has for just a few people (i.e. for her children), except that God has this infinite (unconditional) love for everyone.

But what happens when one of God's children hurts another one of his children? What if the offender does so deliberately and cruelly and repeatedly? Does God say, "It doesn't matter. You are my child, and I love you unconditionally?"

No. God cannot do that without becoming unloving toward the child who is suffering. God must speak up and condemn the behaviour of the errant child. His "love" involves rules, and it also involves punishment for people who break the rules.

Technically, God still loves the sinner even when he is meting out punishment, and in that sense his love is not conditional. But his "love" is expressed in a way that is not usually covered by the fairly recent term "unconditional love". The term "unconditional love" was invented to describe a kind of love that refuses to pass judgment.

Long before the term "unconditional love" was coined we already had the concept of forgiveness (which always implied some kind of repentance as a condition for receiving it); but people were not happy with that. They wanted a God who was indifferent even to the sin, and especially to whether or not a person repents.

That was when Lucifer came along with his doctrine of unconditional love. He pretended to have something better than what God was offering. God wanted you to show some sorrow for your behaviour, to turn around, to make restitution, to change. But Lucifer said that you could have his friendship and still go on breaking as many rules as you like, without him passing judgment on you. He would love you "unconditionally". See how diabolically clever it is? It sounds so much better than what God was offering. It is so much easier than finding forgiveness through repentance.

But it's a lie.

Look at the bigger picture in all of these situations where people preach (and try to practise) unconditional love. Their families break up; their marriages collapse; their relationships with others remain superficial and flat, often masking selfish indifference.

It's easy to be "unconditional" with someone that you don't really care about. Professional social workers and psychologists are the world's experts at this. They'll listen to you with an apparently non-judgmental ear until your scheduled appointment is up, and then you'll go away thinking well of them. "Why can't my family and friends be as non-judgmental?" you'll ask yourself. But the answer is probably because your family and friends have an emotional investment in you that goes beyond a scheduled appointment. This investment makes them shout their disagreement when they see you doing things that may hurt them and you both.

It probably would be good if your family and friends could be more patient, more forgiving, and more sympathetic to your point of view. But do not assume that the professional distance of social workers and counsellors represents greater "love" than these other people have for you.

The Bible says, "Those whom the Lord loves, he chastens... And if he does not chastise you, then he is treating you as a bastard and not as a son or daughter." (Hebrews 12:6-8) It goes on to say that no rebuke or correction is pleasant at the time that we receive it. But if we will recognise the truth in a correction, and if we will act on it, we will be happier in the long run. (Hebrews 12:11)

By taking heed to the conditions of discipleship that Jesus has prescribed for us, we can find life in all its fullness. Over and over we read that great "conditional" word "if" in the Bible. And if we meet the conditions, the truth can set us free (John 8:31-32), if we meet the conditions, we can have fellowship one with another (1 John 1:7), if we meet the conditions, he will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9), and if we meet the conditions, we can ask for what we want, and God will give it to us (John 15:7). Everywhere you look in the Bible, you will find exceeding great and precious promises. But they almost all have conditions attached to them. Look for the word "if" and you will see that it appears before almost every promise.

Follow the conditions, and you'll discover all the blessings and wonders of true love, which is God's love. Ignore the conditions, and you will have nothing but regrets. This is the message of true love. It's not as popular as the message of "unconditional love", but it is the truth.

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