Been thinking again. You’d better duck.
Unconditional love is striking for a number of reasons (not the least of which is its divine origin, for I am convinced that the selfish human heart is incapable of truly loving apart from an infusion of Grace, common or otherwise).
But this particular aspect of “agape” (unconditional) love has been on my mind recently:
“Normal” human love — even well-intentioned — is always a power play. We often choose to love people because they please us, or we realize that loving someone else puts that person in our debt, so to speak. If I do something for you out of love, I feel entitled to demand certain things in return, like gratitude, appreciation, favors, or love itself.
As usual, God’s paradigm turns our natural understanding on its head.
Most of us realize that being the ‘lover’ in an unconditional sense requires giving up one’s claim to the “return benefits.” If I love someone else because of what I can get out of them, my motives are mixed and my love is not pure.
To quote Jack’s favorite Friends episode where Phoebe tries in vain to commit a truly altruistic act, all of our human love is tainted by the power-play. We see the “prize” at the end — acceptance, self-interest, or just a chance to feel better about ourselves.
Let me clarify that I’m not implying that love ought to be merely a one-way street. I John says that we love Godbecause He first loved us. His love creates in us the ability to return love, and the Great Commandment (“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength”) makes it clear that He does expect that love to be returned … but He doesn’t want it from us as an obligation.
We are God’s images, and we learn to love via His example. A godly relationship follows the pattern of sweet fellowship that we see among the members of the Trinity: love flowing both ways so that both people are richly blessed. God’s sacrifice of Himself so that humans could experience that kind of love is deep and mysterious and utterly humiliating for me to consider.
That humiliation of being the recipient of a totally self-sacrificial love leads me to a more surprising realization about agape love:
It’s harder to be the beloved than the lover.
Receiving unconditional love strips away my pride and image of self-worth. Whether received from God or a human, I am powerless to affect the lover’s choice. He/she chose freely to love. It’s not based on my merit. I can’t make it stop by becoming unworthy.
That realization is both an incredible comfort (security) as well as an almost frustrating reminder that — as in most things– I am not the master of this aspect of my life either.
Perfect love is the ultimate example of my lack of control.