How many times have you uttered the words, “God’s love is unconditional?” Yet the term is strangely absent from Scripture. One might argue that other terms are absent as well, like “Trinity” and “hypostatic union.” Of course, the terms are missing but the truth of the Trinity and the hypostatic union are clearly taught.
So what does one make of the notion of God’s “unconditional love.” David Powlison tackles this important subject in his book, God’s Love: Better Than Unconditional. Here’s his proposal: “God’s love is much different and better than unconditional … God cares too much to be unconditional in his love.”
Powlison is not the only one who resists the notion of God’s unconditional love. R.C. Sproul adds, “I can think of no more pernicious lie to destroy people’s souls than this, which some preachers are spreading around the world: God loves you unconditionally. No, he does not. If we do not meet the conditions that he established for us in creation, then God will send us to hell forever” (Truths We Confess, Vol. I, 216).
Powlison grounds his argument with four “unconditional truths.”
1. It is true that “conditional love” is a bad thing.
2. It is true that God’s love is patient.
3. It is true that true love is God’s gift.
4. It is true that God receives people just as they are.
The author admits that the phrase “unconditional” has a “noble theological lineage in describing the grace of God.” But the term is fraught with difficulties. He suggests four biblical improvements:
1. There are more biblical and vivid ways to capture each of the four truths just stated. The Bible provides much richer descriptions of God’s love than “unconditional.”
2. It is clear that unmerited grace is not strictly unconditional. While it is true that God’s love does not depend upon what you do, it very much depends on what Christ did for you. In that sense, it is highly conditional.
3. God’s grace is something more than unconditional in that it is intended to change the people who receive it.
4. “Unconditional love” is filled with cultural assumptions. Such a term implies the minimizing or even elimination of expectations on the one receiving the love.
Powlison urges readers to consider the notion of “contraconditional love.” He continues, “God has blessed me because his Son fulfilled conditions I could never achieve. Contrary to what I deserve, he loves me. And now I can begin to change not because I can earn his love, but because I’ve already received it.”
I commend God’s Love: Better Than Unconditional to fellow pilgrims. It contains the biblical answer to the questions in regards to the love of God. Readers concerned with Powlison’s thesis will be quickly persuaded and encouraged to pursue God with greater obedience and passion – an overflow of the love received from the sovereign and loving God of the universe.