As I continue my Lenten series of reflections on the concept of unconditional love, I turn to the perspective of some modern experts. My goal with this post is not to give you an academic survey of all opinions or every perspective; that would take more time and energy than I have to give—or, frankly, am interested in. Instead, I want to reflect on a few opinions I’ve read that dovetail with what I sense the Spirit is showing me about this challenging cultural concept of unconditional love.
Let’s start with a philosopher, who wrote a relatively brief article that begins, “Unconditional love is impossible.” Steven Hales is writing with social policies in mind, which means he’s concerned about promoting social policies that support a kind of love that is possible, rather than one that isn’t. His primary point is that all love is conditional in some way. We all love for a reason. If the facts behind that reason change, the love can change too.
I’m starting here in part because we can so quickly look to Christianity and Jesus’ “sacrifice” on the cross as a reason to strive for unconditional love. Yet, as I noted last week, that’s not what Jesus was about either. You see, even if you believe the substitutionary atonement theory (which I do not), that Jesus’ death on the cross was an act of unconditional love, it’s not, because it is conditioned upon the transaction of “saving us” in some fashion. We get something out of it, and Jesus would not have gone through that great amount of suffering if it wouldn’t have done “something good.”
Do you see the problem? We think it’s possible for love to be completely without conditions, yet that’s not possible with our human nature. Modern psychology is helping us to understand this. Many therapists are doing this by sharing their opinions on unconditional love online these days.
One such article states, “In reality, love grows and shifts over time. It can also fade, through no fault of anyone involved. Love changes, in part, because people change.” This brings me to a final “expert” opinion, found in an article I edited years ago—and have never forgotten—for the “Evolutionary Thinking” issue of the CAC’s journal Oneing. Tasha Wahl wrote,
I have been married for twenty-two years to multiple men—dozens, maybe even hundreds. They are all named Erik, but they are as unique as the stars in the sky. I have learned to love them all.
My husband, likewise, has married many, many versions of me, which reflect every color of the rainbow, and every subtle shift in hue between the colors….
Life is a series of changes, and yet most of us resist. We want things to be comfortable. We want to travel the path of least resistance.
I have learned over the years to embrace the evolution of Erik, including the men he has yet to become and the ideas and ideals he has yet to embrace.
But in order to get to this place, I had to give up something that I thought I never could. I had to give up love as I knew it, or thought I knew it.
So, what does this mean for us, as Christians and as loving people? I don’t believe “all is lost.” Instead, I think we need to revise our opinions, assumptions, and expectations about love. Next week I’ll share some ways I believe that is possible. Meanwhile, I invite you to ponder your own opinions and assumptions, and their origins. What has shaped your understanding of love?
 Tasha Wahl, “The Evolution of Love,” Oneing 4, no. 2 (Fall 2016), 54.