Is God’s Love Unconditional

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.”

The Trying Game

I watched my sister (in-law) give birth to a perfect baby girl on Wednesday August 17th 2016. It was a wonderful experience and since I was already hoping to have a baby the following year, I asked my husband if we could start trying a month early. The original plan was to start trying in October because I planned to finish my degree in late June (2017) and could give birth any time after that. I figured a month early wouldn’t hurt, even if we did fall pregnant straight away. I only had 1.3 subjects left to complete (the 0.3 referring to a compulsory subject that extends over the life of the 3 year course). If necessary, I could finish my assignments early or get extensions to finish them a little late. I started taking prenatal vitamins a month or two before my niece was born and stopped drinking alcohol in July (at least temporarily).

So we started trying for a baby in September. All that meant was that we stopped using condoms during sex. I had never taken the pill or other precautions. In fact I monitored my cycle and I knew that there were only two weeks of the month that we needed to use condoms and two weeks that we could have unprotected sex without the likelihood of falling pregnant. That method worked for a year and a half.

I don’t know why I got my hopes up in September. I guess I just never really expected falling pregnant to be difficult. I have a very regular cycle. My mum conceived four children easily and had no known miscarriages. My sister-in-law had just had baby number five and all of her children were conceived within a month or so of trying. But when I took a pregnancy test a week before my next period was due and it was negative, I was disappointed and few days later, I cried.

October came around and I was determined to be positive. I spoke to my body every day. I told my uterus that it was forming a healthy lining for my baby. I told my egg that it was going to meet the sperm and implant in my uterus. I also monitored my basal cell temperature after I ovulated to see if it was high as high temperatures could mean that I was pregnant. I misinterpreted the results and thought that my faith had paid off. But the pregnancy test said negative again. And I cried again.

Some friends told me that it takes about three months to fall pregnant. Others told me that I needed to try for 6-12 months before I started to worry. This goes sorely against my personality. As a child I was a pessimist. Even though I have become less pessimistic as an adult, I still have bouts of anxiety and telling me not to worry is not really helpful.

I had another period at the end of October which began our third cycle of trying. All three months we had sex regularly during the ovulation window. In fact we have always had pretty regular sex. But this third month was when I started to feel concerned that one of the main reasons I hadn’t conceived was because I don’t orgasm every time we have sex. I made sure that I masturbated-to-orgasm a few times after sex when JD had orgasmed and I hadn’t. We even used a pornographic video once or twice to help me orgasm during sex. I also went to see an acupuncturist that month, hoping that acupuncture would stimulate the area.

My Pastor prayed for us to conceive a baby while in America, but I decided to play it cool and not really get my hopes up. My period came a day after Thanksgiving (the week we arrived in America) signalling the end of the 3rd cycle and beginning of the 4th. Sex in America was interrupted a few times by family and I orgasmed very little. I ate crappy food and consumed alcohol a few times (for the first time since July) on occasions that I was certain I was not pregnant. I counted the days of my cycle and I could tell that I had PMS the week leading up to Christmas. I was fairly confident that I was not pregnant. Confident enough not to bother taking a pregnancy test. I got a little excited on Christmas Eve when my period was 3 days late, but then that haughty gift, all wrapped in red, arrived on my vaginal doorstep and announced: “You’re not pregnant: merry Christmas to you!”

Despite not getting my hopes up I still cried to my husband. “I had plans! I wanted to be able to tell my students that I would only be teaching for the next 6 months. Everybody is looking at me, waiting for me to announce that I’m going to have a baby because I’ve told people my plans. This is so embarrassing!”

We flew out of America a week later. My period had recently ended and I was about to ovulate again. The idea occurred to me that if I conceived a baby in January it could be born on my husband’s birthday in early October, or even 55 years to the day after my mother’s birthday in late September. That got me excited. I wondered if God and my deceased Mum had concocted a plan that this would be the month I would conceive.

A friend had advised me to keep my legs elevated for 10 minutes after sex. And we had great sex after arriving home from America. We were still on holidays from work (summer holidays in Australia). So we had sex 8 times in 6 days and I orgasmed 7 of those times—a first for me! I elevated my legs for 10 minutes after sex all 8 times and it was very clearly my ovulation window. I felt a sense of peaceful, spiritual hope.

Nonetheless, my hopes were dashed the other day when a doctor revealed the results of my blood test. NEGATIVE. Five months trying and still not pregnant. Mum isn’t sending me a baby to be born on her birthday and I am angry at God because I feel like this is a repeat of what happened with my desire to get married. I dreamed of getting married and having kids since I was nine years old, yet it took until the age of 30 to find the right man for me. I resented the wait. I cried to God so many times, complaining that I wanted and needed a husband, month after month, year after year. No amount of hysterics on my part brought my husband to me any sooner.

Now I am 34. I am pushing the boundaries of a healthy age to have children. I would have liked to have had them in my twenties. My body feels a lot older and tireder now and I don’t think I could handle as many children at this age as I could have handled if I were younger. Plus, if I’d known it would take so long to fall pregnant I would have started at least six months earlier! To be honest, I am feeling very resentful.

Why am I experiencing essentially the same emotions I felt when I was single? Fear that it will never happen. Impatience in the waiting. Feeling robbed of my plans, hopes and dreams. I’m getting exactly the same advice from people: “If you just stop caring it will happen.” “The more you think about it, the less likely it will happen.” “Surrender / relax and if it is meant to be, it will be.” I must not have learned my spiritual lesson the first time because I feel only anger and bitterness when I hear remarks like this.

I am a passionate person! Passionate people don’t give up. Passionate people don’t say “Que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be.” Passionate people don’t just lie back and let life take its course. Passionate people take the bull by the horns and try to make something of their lives. We work hard. We pursue our dreams. Even though I complained about being single, I achieved a heck of a lot in my single years. I wrote and published 3 novels. I took 8th grade and certificate of performance piano examinations which required hours and hours of practise. I recorded songs. I built my own business as a piano teacher. I cared for my sick mother. I did volunteer work and church ministry. I studied. I read. I wrote controversial blogs…

My life is still not where I wanted it to be in terms of a writing career. Nor in terms of becoming a mother. So, do I just throw my hands up in the air and “let it go?” When Elsa let it go, it meant surrendering to who she actually was, not giving up on what she wanted and who she was.

And yet I feel this spiritual pull to relax more. To open my hand and let things come and go with a bit less control and planning on my part. Life is so complicated. I am walking a fine line between holding on to my passion—who I am and what I want out of life—and embracing a more “que sera, sera” attitude.

I feel that this is a battle I must fight on my own. I may be liable to choke the next person who tells me to “just relax” and “let it go,”—even if it’s my husband! If that is what I am meant to do, then it is going to take a concerted effort on God’s part and mine to renew my mind, changing the way that I think and approach life.

So that is where I am at. Frustrated and resentful. Disappointed and sad. Balancing passion and relaxation. Taking my vitamins. Visiting the naturopath. Back to a low sugar diet. Exercising regularly. I’ve already lost 1 kilo / 2 pounds since coming back from America. No alcohol. No coffee. I have a gynaecology appointment at the end of the month: the beginning of cycle 6. Debating whether to have acupuncture or do yoga or something.

Trying to have a baby.

On Being Perfect, Matthew 5:48

Have you ever fretted about the verse “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect,” Matthew 5:48? I have. When I was a child I thought this verse meant that I needed to be completely and utterly sinless or I was going to hell.

This morning I read this verse in Greek and for the first time, the context of the verse dawned on me. Jesus didn’t flippantly yell out a command: “Therefore, be perfect!” He was talking about an ancient command to love our neighbours. “You have heard that it was said, love your neighbour and hate your enemy. BUT I am saying to you, LOVE your ENEMIES and pray for those who persecute you,” Matthew 5:43-44.

Being “perfect” is about loving. It is about not only loving the people that are easy to love like family and friends. It means loving people of other skin colours, sexual preferences, nationalities and religions. It is about loving people you find difficult to love. Maybe you struggle with loving gay people. Or maybe you struggle with loving Muslims. It is okay to struggle. But what you need to understand first and foremost is that God loves all people, friend and foe. Jesus wasn’t telling us to love them without first loving them himself. In fact he refers to his father here—the ultimate authority—and says our father in heaven loves all his enemies. He even offers an illustration. “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous,” verse 45. This is the context in which we learn how to love. We see it demonstrated by our “perfect” heavenly father.

Furthermore, this word perfect doesn’t mean sinless. The Greek words used in this verse are “teleioi” and “teleios.” “Teleios” means: full grown / mature / complete / completely good / completely operative / perfect. So perfection in this context basically means wholeness. “Teleioi” means you will be whole / complete / mature. “Teleioi” does not mean you MUST be perfect as a rule OR ELSE. “Teleioi” is a future tense verb describing how you WILL be perfect. You will be perfect when you love your enemies. Just like your heavenly father is true to himself, entirely complete and whole in his love for his enemies, you grow in maturity by loving your enemies. And I’m not convinced that this is a rule so much as a fact. The fact is, God will teach us all how to love our enemies—no matter how long it takes—and when we finally get to that point of really loving all people, we will be “teleios,” perfect, complete and mature.

Father’s Day

About a week ago I took my husband to visit the church buildings that I spent the most time in as a child and teenager. It used to be called “Canley Heights Church of God.” My grandfather was the Pastor there before I was born, until I was 14 years old. My mum and dad were married in the main building and I was baptised by my grandfather there. I spent many Sunday afternoons, weekends and school holidays in the parsonage with my grandparents.

The Pastor of the church that owns it now, showed JD and I around and I was stunned by how different it looked internally. Most of the walls had been knocked down so that the auditorium extended into what used to be office buildings, kitchen and Sunday school rooms. The main double doors we used to use are now hidden behind the stage, and where we once had our stage is now considered a side wall. The cross is still there (on their side wall) and the baptismal that was under our stage is now underneath chairs. The main entry to the church is a doorway that has been added at the back of the church where there used to be a large eating space in front of the kitchen. This is all part of the seating area now. What was once our external “recreation room” has been renovated into their kitchen. The “dormitory” is now the parsonage and the parsonage that my grandparents lived in still looks essentially the same inside but is used as Sunday school rooms. My grandparents’ vegetable garden, trees and fence have been replaced by a campfire and grassy field. The church’s external “video room” is now used as a granny flat for youth to sleep over in bunk beds. The carpark looks the same but felt smaller and what was once a carport where we parked our minibus has been extended for outside events.

It was so nostalgic to be there and to show JD around. It’s been about 15 years since I last saw the place. I felt an overwhelming gratitude for the people I have interacted with over the years because of that church and the many “family camps” I attended with the denomination of the Church of God in Australia.

I learned some of the best hymns in the Church of God: “How Great Thou Art,” “Amazing Grace,” “I Surrender All,” “What a Friend we have in Jesus,” and my favourite, “It is well with my Soul.” I was challenged to think outside the box by one Pastor who suspected that the story of Jonah is/was mythological. I took part in the sacrament of feet washing, and just last year, my husband and I washed each other’s feet on our wedding night. I partook of communion and baptism in that church. I was taught that God is my father and that he loves me by teachers of that denomination.

But what really stands out to me right now is how much things change with time. As Christians we often talk about how God never changes. But I have been reading textbooks this semester on the doctrine of God and the Trinity, and whether or not he changes, the views of theologians change every day. God is much greater and harder to describe than we would like to think he is. There is so much debate around the attributes of God. Is he immortal and invisible or should we consider him mortal and visible because of Jesus? Is he transcendent (God above all) and/or immanent (God within all) and does this lead to conclusions of pantheism (God is all and all is God) or panentheism (all is within God, but God is greater than all). Calvinists and Open Theists argue about whether God is sovereign and in control of every little detail of our lives or whether human beings have some amount of free will. Is God omniscient (all-knowing) or is he “open” to all possible futures and does he watch history play out in real time? Will God save the entire world (universalism)? Do all religions lead to the same God (pluralism)? Is God monotheistic (one God), triune (three in one), polytheistic (many gods) or communal (multiple gods/modes-of-being in one godhead)?

The more I learn about God, the less I know. I am filled with awe and wonder at the diversity of ideas. Personally, I choose to believe that Jesus is God and that God is triune. But I choose this because my foundational belief is that GOD IS LOVE. So it makes sense to me that for God to be love he must be a community: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And if God really is love (as the Bible claims and I believe), then I can rest assured that he will always love me no matter what I believe about him and how much he remains a mystery to me. The point is not that I know God, but that God knows me. I am not afraid of what I do not know, because the God of love has me. As Jesus said: “I am in my father and you are in me and I am in you,” John 14:20.

Church buildings change. Church denominations change. Theologies change. People change. But I believe that the essence of God – GOD’S LOVE – stays the same.

It is Father’s Day in Australia and I want to wish my Heavenly Father a happy Father’s Day.

“Thank you that you love every single one of us.
May we bask in your love today.”