Showing posts with label Romans. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Romans. Show all posts

God's Love IS Unconditional

Image courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

In my younger years, I attempted to excuse myself from fully buying into the notion that God truly intended me to love all people. Surely he didn't mean for me to love people I have good reason not to trust, those who show animosity towards me and would do me harm if they got the chance. And certainly there was no obligation for me to love the people who had already intentionally and maliciously hurt me. 

A God who truly cared about me wouldn't put me in that position... right?

This was part of a prolonged, circuitous effort to justify myself in refusing to forgive several of the most abusive people in my past. I could "forgive" them in a way that was effectively meaningless, as long as I didn't have to love them. It was a rationale that came from a deeply hurt and fearful place.

As I continued to heal and reached a place where I was ready to handle the answers to these questions, the truth slowly coalesced in my own mind through the influence of the Holy Ghost.

Jesus said love everyone...

To love my neighbor is a commandment that Jesus Christ teaches consistently throughout the New Testament, through just about every imaginable lens.

And in one of my favorite sermons in all of scripture, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught that I am to love my enemies.

So between loving my neighbor and my enemies... who is left?

There is no one else left. Jesus Christ, and our Heavenly Parents who sent him, never intended to leave us any room to make exceptions. The love they intend to teach us is universal, meaning without limits or exceptions.

It's through this same logical progression that I want to discuss why I believe, with every inch of my soul, that divine love is truly unconditional. I will also discuss why I'm deeply mistrustful of anyone who presents any vision of divine love that isn't unconditional.

One of the scriptures that has been in my life the longest as a disciple is Romans 8:38-39. It's probably the one I've reached for more than any other in my seventeen years of church membership, including now:

For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,

Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I don't have to be a Biblical literalist to understand that these verses are describing a love that is infinite and eternal in nature. It does not end. It never changes. The love of God transcends all human weakness to encompass the entire human race. And to someone who is determined to make this a description of universal love again, they just stop there.

Read it again.

When it says that nothing and no one, including "any other creature," can separate us from the love of God, that includes ourselves. The literal meaning of these words is that nothing we will ever do will remove the love of God from us. By the time God's love is universal in all the ways that the scriptures describe, it's impossible for that love not to also be unconditional.

And treat them kindly too.

Why is this important? Because it's impossible to fully appreciate the motivation of Jesus Christ during his atonement in Gethsemane without it.

For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.

For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.

But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:6-8

That's what Jesus Christ did in the Garden of Gethsemane. That was the reason he bled from every pore. It wasn't to set some impossibly high standard of righteousness he knew no one else would ever be able live up to. It wasn't to position himself as a superior to the rest of the human race. It was to make sure that no mistake any person would ever make would prevent them from re-entering the presence of our Heavenly Parents. His sacrifice does not exist as the ultimate condemnation of sin. It's the unconditional love he showed to all of humanity, including to those who would never choose to believe in him. It was the ultimate act of unconditional love.

The prophet Abinadi in the Book of Mormon taught that when Jesus Christ was making that sacrifice, he saw his seed. I've heard some go so far as to suggest that he saw each and every person individually for whom he was making that sacrifice. I'm inclined to agree with that interpretation. (See Mosiah 15:10)

Abinadi then goes on to define exactly who the seed of Jesus Christ is. And as it turns out, it's not those who obey the laws of God with exactness. It's not the whole who need no physician. It's those who look forward to a remission of their sins, who are fully aware they are imperfect human beings who require grace to be made whole. As always, it's the harlots and publicans, the strangers and outsiders who go into heaven before those who find themselves thinking, "the world would be a better place if everyone in it were more like me and approached God exactly like I do." (See Matthew 9:12-13, 12:42, and 21:28-31. See also Jacob 3:5 and Helaman 7:24)

As I recall, that was the sin that got Lucifer cast out of the presence of God. He attempted to put himself between us and our Heavenly Parents with a plan that never would've allowed us to experience that divine love ever again. He, not Jesus Christ, is the one who wanted to make divine love conditional upon his own standard, which he intended to implement by force. He sought to make himself, not God, the object of our worship, the receiver of our love. (See Moses 4:1-4)

Why am I mistrusting of anyone who rejects divine love as being unconditional? Because my soul has been rejecting that plan since the very beginning. I don't trust anyone who views it as their right to stand between our Heavenly Parents and their children, interrupting the loving exchange between us and them. My Savior died so that no one would ever be in a position to do that. I reject the idea that any other intermediary belongs there, deciding how much divine love anyone else is entitled to experience.

When your heart is filled with love, others will love you.

Why would someone put themselves in that position? The same reason I did all those years ago, in my own very human way: to justify myself in withholding my love from someone I didn't want to acknowledge was deserving of it. I wanted to abandon the second great commandment to love my neighbor, when I already knew there was no way for me to do that without utterly breaking the first. That is, to love God.

If you don't believe me, you don't have to take my word for it. 1 John 4:20-21 says the same exact thing:

If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?

And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.

This is as true for God as it is for us. Our Heavenly Parents have set no standard for us that they are not equally bound to follow. They have taught us to have universal, unconditional love for each other because it's how they live. It's the only way we can truly become like them.

And while we (and they) are fully aware that we will stumble along the way, I believe they would rather watch us stumble along the path of loving unconditionally than being perfect at withholding our love from those who just don't deserve it. Especially if we're going to point to them as a justification.

"How can you talk about the Church that way?"

I view my loyalty to be to God first, the institution second. I'm a disciple of Christ, not the Church. It also helps that I've had to navigate the Church being a Messy Place with Messy People since before I was baptized.

Image courtesy of: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

No amount of institutional grief or disappointment will ever compare to the Young Women lesson where I found out my family couldn't be at my sealing. If I can survive that, there's not much worse the Church (or anyone else) can do to me.

It sounds bad, but I learned early on that this kind of pain just comes with the territory. Being Mormon has always been this hard for me. But the highs justified the lows somehow. It was only recently that I asked myself "should it really be like this?"

I'm trying to figure out if/how to have Mormonism in my life without all the the self-sacrificing martyrdom. It is possible for them to ask too much. It's a new way of thinking about faith for me, but it's the only way forward at this point.

I found a lot of value in that Abrahamic notion that faith should be able to ask everything of you, or it can't actually save you. I was eager to prove myself to God, and to see what I was made of.

But no one can do that forever. So I'm asking different things of my faith now. And in the process, I think I'm coming to understand Romans 4 for the first time.

It's wasn't the law, the sacrifice, or the works of Abraham that was accounted to him for righteousness. It was his faith. That was the purpose of the lesson. It wasn't to take Isaac away from his father, to require that from his hands. It was to teach him that there are things in this world more valuable than sacrifice.

It is through faithnot through Abraham's name, his bloodline, or through the lawthat salvation comes. To be consumed with making sacrifices to God as a measure of my own self-worth? That's not what I'm supposed to do. That was never supposed to be the point of my association with God, even if that's what the Church and its members expect from me.

So, in the same spirit that was taught to the Hebrews, I can learn this lesson. I can let go of this constant need to prove myself, to try and earn the worthiness to be loved and regarded by God. That's not something I have to earn. As in all loving and healthy relationships, it was there already, waiting for me to be able to see it.

Ten Scriptures that Can Get Me Through Anything

Whenever I get a new set of scriptures, there are a few places I go to first to mark them. Even though I could make my way back to these verses from memory, my scriptures don't really feel like mine until I've been to them.

1. 2 Corinthians 4:8-9

These first two were on my wall when I was a teenager. I don't even remember when I found them. My scripture reading method at the time was to just flip around randomly in the Bible until I found something that spoke to me.

2. Romans 8:35-39

Because my family and friends didn't accept my decision to be baptized and were constantly undermining my beliefs and life decisions, reading these verses reassured me that nothing they were trying to do would ultimately succeed.

3. Psalm 27

Everyone needs a psalm that speaks to them in their suffering, and this one is mine. Everything about it speaks directly to my heart, especially verse 10. This psalm teaches me what it looks like to hold my head above water. It couldn't speak any better to my heart if I had written it myself.

4. 1 Nephi 21:15-16

Similar to Psalm 27:10, these verses remind me that even though my relationships with my parents are full of painful memories I wish I didn't have, I have a Savior who has been with me through all of it. There is someone who loves me and sees me for who I am, even when my parents cannot.

5. Isaiah 62:1

This is the scripture I would've put on my mission plaque if I'd had one. It speaks to the part of me that truly never wants to give up on anybody, the tenacity of holiness, and the refusal to quit.

6. Mosiah 11-17

Abinadi. Enough said.

7. Alma 32

This was the first chapter in the Book of Mormon I ever read. It was the reason I got baptized. It's also the chapter in the Book of Mormon I've come back to the most throughout my life, especially when I struggle with my relationships with other members of the Church. The Church is not the focus of my worship. Jesus Christ is. Every time I've needed that reminder, I've ended up spending time in this chapter.

8. Alma 36

There is no better description than this chapter of what it feels like to be redeemed by Jesus Christ. It perfectly captures the joy of repentance. It gets me every time.

9. 3 Nephi 22

This was the chapter I ended up reading after I sent my father a copy of the Book of Mormon, shortly before he ended up passing away. It was a difficult thing for me to do because we were estranged. This was the message I got from God letting me know that he was proud of me, that he would bless me for doing the best I could with a really difficult situation, and the blessings in this chapter were the ones he was saving especially for me.

10. 2 Nephi 26:23-33

This is the chapter I have probably quoted the most when I'm teaching other members of the Church. I love it because it teaches the universal love of God for all of his children, with specificity about the issues most prevalent in our day.

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