It’s been a couple of days since I came across Bruce Gerencser’s Blog „The Way Forward“. From all what I have understood, Bruce used to be a minister for years, before he became atheist. On his blog, there is a „start here“ series with posts to understand his journey. In order to understand – why woud I be reading anything at all if not to gain further understanding on God knows what – I started reading those posts (I haven’t come far yet, but I shall).
Below the first of those posts, in the comments, Bruce claimed the christian God would not love unconditionally. I questioned that, we exchanged some points and he pointed me to another post of his called Unconditional Love.
I don’t know Bruce very well and I dislike categorizing people (though I do it – and I hate that fact), so I want to make clear that this post here is neither to question his decision to leave the church or anything else that has to do with his person. I just want to answer to this very post about unconditional love. Not more, not less.
I know that Bruce knows the bible much better than I do. Somewhere I read, he had been studying the bible for 50 years (Bruce, if you read this, corretc me if I’m wrong) and I am far from even being 50 years old. Nonetheless I have at least some knowledge of the bible and theology, so I dare to throw a big No at the said pot of Bruce’s. And I invite you all, no, I ask you, I beg you to point me to the flaws in what I write. After all, I could only win from being shown my mistakes. Finally: English is not my mother tungue, so you might find that I use some starnge or unclear language. I still hope it’s good enough for you to follow. If not, tell me and I’l try to explain what I meant.
Now to Bruce’s post:
He starts with examples for non-unconditional love in our daly life. He writes that even though we might say we love our wives unconditionally, we would quickly stop doing so once they started to behave in a way we could not bear. He claims we would then stop loving them.
This seems pretty right. And really, many people do stop loving their spouses when they cheat on them and such (Bruce also mentions child molestation). But does the love stop because of unmet conditions? I wouldn’t say so. I even would question love stopping the very moment we hear such things about our spouses. Why else would we suffer from the cheating, if there was no more love there at that very point? I’d say we suffer, because we love and because we realize that the person in question does not meet the conditios we set up for them to deserve our love. Sometimes we stop loving quickly after such a crisis, sometimes the love does not stop at all though we would under no condition want to meet that person again.
Let’s look at the thing from a different perspective: Not from the en of love, but from the beginning. Do we set certain conditions that have to be met in order to love someone. Did you ever walk down the street and decide all of a sudden to love a certain person? I’d say, and I’d be interested in people with a different experience to tell me about it, that love i something that happens to us, without us putting up conditions. So from that point of view I’d say: Yes, love is unconditional. That doesn’t mean it will last forever or anything, but we do not control it. As well as we don’t control the end of love, as much as we sometimes would like to be able to just cease loving some persons who just hurt us.
For me as a Christian, love is a gift from God that He gives and takes as He pleases. I cannot do anything about it. Neither can my wife.
I also want to say something about love relationships. Becaue Bruce writes that there are conditions when we enter such relationships. Yes, there are, I agree absolutely. But there are love relationships without love (but a whole big lot of lust and desire eihter for the body or for the money or… you name it) and plenty of love that does not end in a love relationship.
So I would say: Love is basically unconditional, even between humans, because whenever it is not unconditional, it makes the other one an object and is not love anymore, but desire or whatever you will call it.
So do we love unconditionally? I’d say seldomly if ever. We are human, so we fail. And yes, this is a religous conviction, but I am religious. Your convictions might differ, but they are convictions nonetheless, just as mine.
Now to God. Bruce writes:
God drowned millions of people in the flood. Men, Women, children, the unborn. His love was not unconditional.
I’d be hesitant to connect the Flood with love. But I’d also be as hesitant to connect it with the lack of love. I am deeply convinced that you can love a person and still harm them. I’d agree if Bruce wrote: God’s present of life, and of good life even more, is not unconditional. God takes lives. And as I believe He has his reasons to do so, it is conditional. But I do believe God can take lives and still love. God was, according to the bible, in strong detest of how the people were living in Noah’s times. So there is a reason why he took lives. But then again, He’ll take all of our lives one day or another. So this way of thinking would lead to us saying God would not love any person at all, because all die. If we look at the live of the saints and martyrs, there is death and suffering everywhere. But no Christian in his right mind would say God didn’t love them.
Finally Bruce writes about the condition that we have to believe in order for God to love us and safe us from eternal hell. I know this kind of teaching well, and yes, it is a form of christian teaching. In the United States this might even be the majority opinion among Christians. But there is more to Christianity than the United States, and there are more denominations than the fundamentalist ones. Saying the Christian God wouldn’t love unconditionally is only true for a very small group of Christians. So you’d have to call quite some Christians not „true“ Christians in order to make that sentence, that the Christian God wouldn’t love unconditionally, true. You might know that this is the „no true scotsmen“ argument basically.
Yes, I might be classified as close to universalism. I think it’s the closest to what I read in the bible, but I also know that there are problems. Actually I don’t mind too much, because even in Calvinism as a believer, I’d be going to heaven anyway. And I am not Roman Catholic or Evangelical enogh to think works (including the work of faith) gets me there. That’s the problem with all those theologies that focus too much on hell: They have to say who’s gonna go there, so in order to find somebody to put there, they put up all kind of rules what you have to do or not.
So as close to universalism (though I wouldn’t deny hell, but I’m not sure if it is eternal or just something like the Roman Catholic purgatory, that only cleanses people from their sins) I would say: Yes, God loves unconditionally and in the end we’ll all go to heaven. And yes, all would mean: Including Mao, Hitler and all the other people that could be considered evil. But all of them will be cleansed. The Hitler of heaven would have repented, would have seen the evil of his ways ad would have changed. He‘ be abe to love Jews like anybody else. And heaven’s Stalin woud be friends with them as they’d be friends with anybody else in heaven. And the lion wil lie with the lamb and the child will play with the snake.
One word on Calvinism: The Problem with Calvinists is, they don’t read Calvin. He wasn’t too focused on those who are lost, he was only interested to point out that those with faith in God ar saved no matter what. Unconditionally, because of the (unconditional) love of God. And as for Arminians: I don’t know. There are hardly any here in Germany. Seems they all go either burned or they went to the New World. You deal with them 😉