Some conditions apply … or not
Contrary to all logic, there are absolutely no conditions on God’s love
Those of use who use e-mail know how it works. A message arrives promising you have been “awarded” a “free” laptop computer or a $500 cell phone that will do everything including balancing your checkbook. If you click for more details you discover, “some conditions apply.” In other words, you get the nifty piece of merchandise “for free” but only after you satisfy certain requirements. This means, of course, it’s not free.
Last month in this space I laid out what I believe is the ultimate “Lutheran sound byte,” a rationale for making a positive Lutheran difference in an increasingly God-hostile environment. I said the Lutheran genius can be distilled as follows:
God’s love is unconditional and
it changes lives for good.
One reader took issue with that. He wrote a very pointed response, in which he informed me that God’s love is in fact conditional. (In other words, some conditions apply.) His argument was this: God surely loves us, and offers us an embrace that can change our lives, but it doesn’t happen until we accept it. Others have tried alternatives on this theme, saying, “God’s love is unconditional, but it doesn’t benefit you until you decide to change.”
Both of these arguments miss the point. And, coming from our readers, they suggest Lutherans, who should know better, can’t tell the difference between Law and Gospel. The Gospel says God’s gift comes without condition. The Law says my relationship to God depends on me. That’s why the Gospel is good news and the Law is bad news.
I stand by my earlier argument. God’s love is unconditional. We receive it in the same way a newborn baby receives love from a good parent — with no strings attached.
If we want to waste what we receive, we have that option. Read the Parable of the Prodigal Son in the Gospel of Luke. But even in the parable, when the son “comes to himself,” Dad embraces him without condition.
The Lutheran genius is to celebrate that. And we celebrate it by living generously.