The most important thing we can ever say about God the Father is that the Father is love. Sadly, when we think of earthly fathers, mothers and parents we do not always think of love. Sometimes we think of anger, abuse, neglect and trauma. It is not always easy to understand that God the Father is far better than any earthly father or mother. We get our definition of God the Father as love, from the Bible.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
The Father’s love is not conditioned by what we do i.e. when we are good he loves us and when we are bad he hates us. He is never hateful. He never rejects or neglects us. He never uses or abuses us. Most importantly, he doesn’t need us to be a certain way, or do particular things in order to be pleased with us and to love us. The Father loves all the time. Love doesn’t stop loving. In that sense, the Father’s love is unconditional toward us. It cannot be transformed into hatred, it cannot cease, it cannot fail. The Father is always love.
Yet there is another sense in which the Father’s love is not exactly unconditional. The phrase in 1 Corinthians 13:6 which says “love does not delight in evil,” helps us to understand the conditional side of love. I am not talking about the Father’s love being pliable or something you or I could manipulate. The church has taught for so long that we are capable of offending God and this leads us down a slippery slope of thinking that God could possibly hate us or reject us eternally. That is why we must meditate on 1 Corinthians 13 as our definition for what the love of God is. “It keeps no record of wrong.” “It always protects.” “Love never fails.” And yet, still, “love does not delight in evil.” This means that if we are infected by evil or sin—and I believe we all are—then the Father point blank refuses to let us stay like that because he is love.
The Father’s love is not conditional toward us in the sense that he needs us to be whole in order to love us, but the Father’s love is conditional in the sense that he refuses to let us be anything but whole because the only way we can truly receive his love, is in wholeness. He doesn’t need us to be whole in order to love us, but we need to be whole in order to perceive that love. The Father doesn’t need us to be saved, purified, sanctified, justified, forgiven or redeemed in order to love us, but love refuses to stand-by and watch the world simply give up and die. Love doesn’t say: “Do whatever you like and I will always love you.” Can you imagine if a suicidal teenager said to his mother, “I’m going to jump off a cliff today,” and she responded “Do whatever you like, honey. I will always love you!” Of what use is the love of the Father if we are all dead? Or what if we are incapable of perceiving and experiencing that love? What good is love, if we don’t recognize it? Love says: “Because I love you, you can do whatever you like, but I will fight to the death to save you from these things you think you like that are not actually doing you any good.”
Do you see what I’m getting at here? God the Father loves us unconditionally. I don’t think it is wrong to use this phrase as long as we qualify it. He doesn’t need us to change to keep loving us. But his love will inevitably change us. His love will save us. His love refuses to let us go down to the pit and die. His love refuses to put up with sin forever because “love does not delight in evil.”