waitingforaface asked a question: “You say God loves unconditionally, but isn’t salvation based on an action on our part to choose the grace that is given? Does God love even those who will one day be eternally separated from him? Sorry to ask such a pointed question.”
You know, I tend to get confused about God’s love because I’ve heard it abused in so many strange ways. And I think the devil totally loves it when we trade simplicity for semantics.
I remember a Calvinist telling me, “You can’t say God loves everyone because you’re lying to people who are going to Hell.” Or I’ve heard that God’s love is conditional because it’s inactive for those who don’t love Him. Or I’ve heard that God’s love includes His punishment, because He loves enough to “punish the guilty.”
I suppose I understand all those intricate little detailed arguments. But the plain truth is: God is never contingent on a human response for anything, so His nature is irrevocably independent of our treatment of Him.
No one could possibly imagine what this is like. We’ve never seen a kind of love that keeps initiating from itself without exhaustion. We’ve only seen conditional transactions in every interaction on earth, where we expect pay-offs and paybacks and paychecks. It’s impossible to imagine a relationship where one side is perpetually constant.
So maybe we need to reframe this conversation. When we think of God in purely abstract doctrinal terms, then it seems like salvation is a kind of “equation” where my choice equals some positive outcome. But that’s still a transaction, an exchange of goods. Life is way, way messier than that—because even our choices are full of mixed motives, mistakes and imperfection. It would be impossible to know who is really “OK with God” based on our own actions, because really, my current grade would get me burst into flames.
This is why God’s love would have to be unconditional, because no one could possibly bear the burden of getting enough “valid faith” to enter Heaven. Jesus did everything, literally everything, on a cross and in a tomb for us. As Tim Keller says, God’s love is even counterconditional. To even hint there are conditions immediately means we’re talking about people or idols or false gods, and not Him.
And that’s why I believe faith is not some one-time decision you make at youth camp, but that faith is slowly awakening to the reality that God has been pursuing you and wooing you toward Him through His Son. It’s not “believing harder” that makes you a “better Christian,” but rather, it’s waking up to His love that changes your slumbering heart. It’s awakening to the constant unchanging chase of God’s heart for you.
This would have to mean that Heaven and Hell are secondary doctrines, which although super-important, are not as important as waking up to God Himself. Hell is not primarily a place of “bad evil people,” but people who chose to stay asleep and preferred it that way. God does not force Himself on us. God does not even receive our “good deeds” as payment. God just wants us to wake up.
This also means that God is perpetually grieving over those who ultimately choose apart from Him. Anyone who ends up in Hell will have tried very hard to get there, and even then, there’s no repentance (check out Luke 16:19-31). I am almost certain that God is somehow weeping over them still, because He does not want anyone to perish (2 Peter 3:9). But the gates of Hell, as they say, are locked from the inside.
So if someone were to ask me, “How could God’s love be unconditional?” then I would say—“Nothing you do could ever change God’s heart for you, and it’s His unchanging heart that changes you.”