Is Unconditional Love the Highest Kind of Love?

Perhaps not. It, of course, depends upon what we mean by unconditional. If we mean love that is given without regard for who a person is and anything they’ve done, then I would argue that this is ground level love. It is, for Christians, the lowest level of love we can have. It is foundational and therefore essential. It means that no matter who a person is or what they have done, we are committed to seeking God’s best for them. This is where our love should begin–but not where it should end.

The more I think about unconditional love in actual relationships, the more certain I am that we need and desire something higher. I know this sounds heretical because we have often been told that God’s agape love is unconditional love that has nothing to do with us and everything to do with God being love.

Yet imagine my wife asking, “Do you love me?” and me responding, “I love you with unconditional love that will always seek God’s best for you. It has nothing to do with you but is simply God’s love radiating out of me to those in my life.” Honestly, many marriages would be transformed by even this kind of love, but I doubt that this answer would satisfy Teckla or most wives. If I told my sons that I love them with unconditional love that is in no way a response to who they are or what they have done, I suspect they would say with some disappointment, “That’s nice, Dad. I guess.”

When God’s love is described as a love that is totally spontaneous to himself, we make his love impersonal. Like the sun shining, God cannot help but love. I think God’s love can be unconditional but still responsive to who we are. My example would be God looking at all his creation, including Adam and Eve, and saying, “Behold, it was very good.”

Obviously, the goodness and value of creation all came from God’s wise and gracious work as a Creator, but his pronouncement was in response to what he saw. Even though fallen and often broken, we are all created in the image of God. God loves us individually for the goodness and purpose He has given each of us. He sees and loves the person He has created us to be. This is still completely to His praise and glory as our Creator—we have in no way earned God’s love. It does mean, however, that God’s love is expressed in ways that correspond to His unique purpose for us as His creation.

If we accept Jesus as the perfect revelation of God’s love, we immediately notice that his ministry is individualized. He healed people in different ways and took the time to touch people one by one. Many times, Jesus declared that their healing was a result of their faith (Matthew 8:13; 9:22,29; 15:28). We must also notice that Jesus often acted out of his compassion for the people who were like sheep without a shepherd. His love was emotional and personal, not a general expression of benevolence to everyone everywhere.

I do have unconditional love for my wife, sons, and the family of God. But that is the beginning of love. A higher love is one that sees who God has created others to be and affirms the beauty and goodness of that person. It requires seeing them as God sees them and having a revelation of the glorious person that is sometimes hidden beneath sin and rebellion. Of course, every good thing discovered in us has its origin in God’s grace as our creator. Therefore, we cannot boast and need not strive to earn God’s love. This kind of love is not conditioned according to our actions, but it is shaped by the unique expression of the image of God in each person.

I will go further. I believe that people have a great hunger for the kind of love that recognizes our unique calling and gifts as individuals created in the image of God. Hearing that God is love and loves all people unconditionally doesn’t satisfy the need people have to hear God calling them by name. When the angel of the Lord calls the name of Hagar and gives her promises and instruction, we are told “she called on the name of the Lord who spoke to her and said, ‘Thou art a God who sees.’”

Like Hagar, many today, even those who have been Christians for years, need to know God sees them—and knows their names.

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About Mark

I live in Myrtle Point, Oregon with my wife Teckla and am the father of four boys. Currently I teach writing and literature at Southwest Oregon Community College. I am a graduate of Myrtle Point High School, Northwest Nazarene College, and have a Masters in English from Washington State University.
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