The Need for Conditional Love

I always try to balance my speck-posts (critique of systems) with log-posts (critique of me), lest I forget that we are all in process and all part of untrue systems, me just as much as anyone else. And what I have recently recognized in myself is this: I always confess with my mouth that God loves me know matter what but I rarely live that way. If nothing can separate us from the love of Christ then why do I often catch myself trying to prove myself to God, why does shame, guilt, and feelings of “not good enough” still have a resting place in my heart?

In good 12-step fashion, I find the first step to liberation is admittance. What would happen if we actually admitted that we still operate with God the way we do in all our other relationships, that approval is conditional, and love based on the “if.” One of the most damaging things in my relationship with God is when I am unwilling to admit that deep down I still believe that he is pleased with me more when I obey the rules and loves me less when I don’t.

But what happens when I dig even further is more disturbing. If I dig even deeper, past admitting that I don’t believe I am unconditionally accepted, what I find is that I actually like feeling that I am not unconditionally accepted. What?

It’s true. If I am nakedly honest with myself, I often feel like I need conditioned love to motivate me to live a better life. After all, what better incentive to live a selfless life than the pleasure or displeasure of the Creator? But this is not love. This is fear. And perfect love casts out fear. There is no place in the Kingdom of God to be motivated by punishment, it is the love of Christ that compels us to life change, not fear of retribution.

I say it so well but believe it so little . . .

7 responses to “The Need for Conditional Love

  1. Jared –

    Nice post –

    I think you have hit on the characteristic of the religious person that leads so many psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, and behaviorists to conclude that religion is nothing other than the result of flawed reasoning which is formed and reinforced in the context of group-forming dynamics of a closed society.

    And they are probably quite right …. as pertains to the evidence before them.

    It may be counter-intuitive but the key to shedding the baggage is probably not in greater effort toward piety and understanding by the individual but rather in more careful attention to Tradition in the programs for religious formation.

    This is because the truths of Tradition transcend the temporary influences which cloud our interpretation of our faith. As Christ promised to be with the Apostles to the end of the age we can trust Tradition born of those ages to carry the revelation of Christ’s presence and in looking to Tradition we look toward Christ.

    I am referring to Tradition with its capital ‘T’ and not tradition with its lower case ‘t’.

    Humans will always be Humans when forming a religious response to his questions. Human traditions will always bring distorted understanding where as the Tradition of the Church carries truth that is not Human in origin.

    God help us all!

    Peace and All Good,

    Garry, OFS

  2. This is convicting. I think I too believe “he is pleased with me more when I obey the rules and loves me less when I don’t.” Thanks for the post.

  3. But is being pleased or displeased the same thing as being loved/not-loved?

    It seems to me that the point of unconditional love is that it separates out the Father’s love from the pleasingness of my behaviour. If I help my elderly neighbour when I don’t really feel like it, doesn’t that give God more pleasure than if I poke her in the eye with a sharp stick? Either way He may love me, but does he really take just as much pleasure in me when I am cruel or intolerant or just careless of others’ feelings? To personalise: I love my teenage daughter, but I’d still be happier if she’d clean up her room occasionally.

    Or maybe the difference is that you talk about rules, whereas I think God is more concerned with attitudes and compassion. Offhand, I cannot think of anything in the NT which seriously suggests that God is pleased by us following rules, as such, but there is still an awful lot which suggests that what we do, particularly in the way we treat people, is important (parable of the talents, sheep and goats, two sons, Sabbath arguments, Simon the Pharisee, and so on).

  4. Sorry, grammatical inconsistency in my very first sentence. It should have been “But is being pleased or displeased the same thing as loving/not-loving?”

  5. I think when we operate out of a desire to prove ourselves to God, we become Pharisaical and end up more pleased with our own righteousness than with God when we have our “good days.” We give ourselves the credit for our goodness. We project our feelings about ourselves on God and forget that his own feelings about us are separate from our own. While I 100% understand where you’re coming from, I think this tendency we have needs to be put to death as often as it pops its head up. There is, in my experience (and especially when I really pay close attention to everything I say and do in a day), only bondage there.

  6. I like BlackPhi’s comments here. . . Perhaps the distinction isn’t about the pleasure or love of God, but God’s approval or disapproval. Those concepts are close, but not identical, and in some of us, they FEEL like the same thing. It helps to think as a parent or a husband/wife . . . I want to give pleasure/joy to my husband, and I am often times pleased with my kids. I do want God to be happy or somehow proud of me- not because He would love me more, or bless me, but because I am already secure in God’s love and because I LOVE GOD. So striving for approval, based on good performance, isn’t quite the same thing. It comes out of insecurity, and fear.
    But I’m with you too Jared, I sometimes think I would do a better job of things if I did think I could earn an “A+” if I work really hard. I imagine I would be more motivated if I was striving for God’s approval. Although to be brutally honest, is it really God’s approval I am seeking, or pastors’, church’s and other christian’s approval, acceptance and reward?

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