…A reader asks: Dear Father John, since I have been very exposed to the modern self-help movement that tells us God’s love or Christ’s love is unconditional, how do we explain judgment of others? If he loves us all equally, why do we need to pray, be virtuous or even religious? If we are all flawed humans (some worse than others ) and we are told to love ourselves regardless, what could possibly be the motivation for our civilization to change? Thank you.
In Part I, we talked about responding to God’s love, the dangers of self-help and other religious systems and heresies, and the need to go beyond self-help. In this second part, we will look at the amazing call to go deeper into relationship with God and be co-creators with God, and what it means to love more and more.
The Amazing Call to be Co-Creators
There is a related question too. Why does our having a deeper and deeper relationship with God require us to change, to grow in virtue, and to strive to “enter in by the narrow gate” as Jesus put it (Matthew 7:13)? Why isn’t it enough simply to have experienced God’s love and then say we love him in return?
The answer to this question points us back to a simple truth: God created us as historical beings – we exist inside time and space, even though our final destiny is eternity. When God did this, he purposed us to be partners with him in creation. This is why he gave Adam and Eve the commandment to go and subdue the earth and fill it. It is in our nature to be creative, to do things, to make a difference in the world. And as we pursue those activities, if we pursue them out of love and for love, we grow spiritually; our souls become capable of more intense loving and being loved. Like a fruit tree that bears more fruit when it reaches full maturity, we can grow to greater spiritual maturity and bear more spiritual fruit (the fruits of the spirit, St. Paul teaches, are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – see Galatians 5:22-23).
Loving More and More
As we grow in wisdom, courage, love, and self-mastery, we are simply more capable of deeper intimacy with God and others, because we are more capable of giving ourselves in love, and of receiving others in love. Someone like [Saint] Mother Teresa of Calcutta was spiritually mature, and so she reflected God’s glory more fully than those who were spiritually immature. As a result, her experience of God was deeper and broader. God wants to give himself to us completely. But wherever selfishness still lurks within us, we are closing him out. As that selfishness is purified through spiritual growth and greater maturity, we are able to open those closed doors and let God fill us more and more completely; we are able to receive his love more fully. And then, in turn, we ourselves can love more intensely. And that’s what life is all about: living in an ever deepening communion of love with God and, in him, with our neighbors.
May God continue to bless you, and may you continue to respond to his love with a joyful and trusting generosity!
Art for this post asking “Is God’s Love Unconditional? (Part II of II)”: The Narrow Gate, photographed by David Long, 12 December 2005, CC-SA 2.0 Generic, Wikimedia Commons.