Friday, July 23, 2010


For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:6-8 NAS

In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
1 John 4:10 NRS

Some time ago, I had a conversation about God’s love and grace with a professor at the seminary I was attending. I shared with him what I felt to be the most important message everyone needs to hear: that God loves them unconditionally. His response puzzled me.

“Scripture never uses the word unconditional to describe God’s love.”

I carefully considered his words. I examined the scriptures. He was right. The word unconditional is never used to describe God’s love. In fact, the word is not found anywhere in any English translation of the Bible I’ve encountered.

That is not to say, however, that the concept of unconditional love is not to be found in the Bible. In fact, it seems to me that the unconditional love of God is the overwhelming message of the cross. Consider The Parable of the Tenants (Mk 12:1-9). In this parable, the tenants kill the King’s own son and what does the parable say the King will do? He will kill the tenants and give the vineyard to others. Now, this was directly aimed at the Jewish leaders, “the chief priests, the scribes and the elders” (Mk 11:27) who were attempting to manipulate Jesus and would later play a primary role in his death. However, very few theologians would say that only the Jewish leaders bore the guilt of Jesus’ death on the cross. All humanity bears that guilt, and so all humanity deserves the punishment described here. In that way, this parable applies to all of us “wicked tenants”.

In Christ, God turns this parable upside down. He does indeed give the Kingdom to others. However, rather than narrowing the gates of the Kingdom he flings them wide open to all who would trust him (Jo 3:16), offending the Jewish leaders but not excluding them per se. In further contrast to the king in the parable, he does not kill those who killed his son. Instead, he offers life, mercy and redemption to his murderers through the very death by which they judged his son.

1 John 4:10 tells us that God loved us even when we didn’t love Him. Paul says, in Romans 5:8, that Christ died for the ungodly, the sinners… those who didn’t love Him, or gave no indication of it from their behavior. You see, God’s love is unconditional. He doesn’t wait for us to “be good” before he loves us. He doesn’t even wait for us to accept Christ before He loves us. He loves us before we love him. And in the lamb slain before the foundation of the world (Re 13:8), he loved all humanity before we were even created. How’s that for unconditional love?

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