Bob and Lupe use some good arguments to qualify the way I interpreted God’s unconditional love. As Bob reports, some passages warn we should not use God’s love to excuse all. For instance, the whole point of Jude seems to be his insistence that false prophets will share eternal punishment with fallen angels and other evil doers. There is no way we can or should feel compelled to harmonize the many biblical traditions.
In fact, the same kind of question arises when we examine the unconditional love expected of us. When Jesus tells us to love our enemies, he allows no exceptions. The command is as unconditional as that telling us to forgive those who sin against us 70 times 7 times.
You see this in Jesus’ three surprises when asked which commandment he regarded as the greatest (Mark 12:28-34, Matthew 22: 34- 40, Luke 10: 5- 37). The first was responding with two. Those around him would have expected to hear the first, the great Shema, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might (Deuteronomy 6: 4- 7). It is the first prayer a Jewish child is taught. Many Jews recite it at least twice daily. Parts are written on the small scroll inserted into the mezuzah. But Jesus also offered a second from Leviticus 19: 17, 18 and Deuteronomy 22: 1-4, “Love your neighbor as yourself”
The second surprise would have been how he interpreted this second part. In the Old Testament passages the neighbor was your kin or the person next door. Luke reports Jesus defined “neighbor” as a Good Samaritan, someone usually regarded as an enemy.
The third surprise was describing the two commandments as the same. To love God is to love your neighbor. I John 4: 20 goes so far as to say, “Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars.”
You also see this call for unconditional love in the very careful use of the Greek “agape” when speaking of Christian love, either God’s or our own. Lupe pointed this out when she cautioned our modern English use of “love” can be misleading. Actually, the Greek offers many words to highlight various versions of love. The Christians used one in a very distinctive, almost inventive, manner to make their point. You see this in John 21: 15-19 when the Risen Christ asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” The first two uses the Greek phileo that means brotherly or mutual love; the third used agape that means unconditional love. The writer is making an obvious point.
That point is reinforced in the many passages that claim the centrality of love. Galatians 5:14, James 2: 8, and Romans 13: 8-10 represent those that claim love summarizes the law. John offers only one commandment, “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13: 34). Paul says things such as, “The only thing that counts is faith acting in love” (Galatians 5: 6) and “Let all be done in love” (I Corinthians 16: 14). And , of course, I Corinthians 13 claims all the other Christian virtues are nothing if they lack love.
All of this demands some contemplation. Do these passages mean we express our love for God solely by the way we love other people? Where does worshipping God enter into this? Is this simply a mental repentance where we come to see our neighbor as another for whom Christ died like ourselves (I Corinthians 8: 11) or is it a spiritual transformation that enables us to love? (Romans 12: 2)