The concept of unconditional love is something that’s been in my mind for a long time. It’s been there ever since my childhood growing up as a Roman Catholic, as God is supposed to have unconditional love for us. However, I’m not sure I ever really understood what unconditional love really meant, and maybe I still don’t now, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about lately.
The word “unconditional” is pretty clear
It’s a little strange for me to say that I didn’t really understand what unconditional love was, when the word “unconditional” is so clear. It must mean “without any conditions” and no matter what happens (anything at all!), the love would still exist. So, even if the object of the love tried to actually harm the giver of the love, the giver would still have love for that person. Otherwise it wouldn’t be unconditional love.
Unconditional love has to be there no matter what. It has to exist permanently, can’t be erased or reduced. In a way, unconditional love is eternal.
But then, who could imagine actually having unconditional love for somebody? There must be something that a person could do that would make me stop loving them, wouldn’t there? Sure! What if they tried to kill me or my family? How could I love them then?
Maybe I just don’t understand what unconditional love is.
The meaning of unconditional love
The meaning of love here is not what commonly comes to mind with the ideas of liking the way someone looks, wanting to be with them, wanting to have physical relations with them, etc. That’s really lust and infatuation, not love in the sense of unconditional love.
Here, love is more about having respect and compassion for another person and wishing the best for them. It’s respecting their fundamental value as a person, having compassion and understanding for the difficulties they are facing in their life and a deep desire that their life will turn out well for them. It doesn’t mean we have to “like” them (this is nicely discussed by C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity). We don’t have to think they are beautiful, or even enjoy spending time with them, to love them in this sense.
Testing unconditional love
I’m trying to think of an enormous test for unconditional love. Let’s say that somebody murders one of your close friends or family. Is it possible to have unconditional love for this person? Well, it would be extremely hard. Using the definition above, it would mean that we’d have to still respect them as having fundamental value as a person (hard, in these circumstances), have compassion for the problems they have in their life and honestly wish the best for them. How could we do that? How could we wish them well? We couldn’t, and that’s not what it means.
To have unconditional love for a murderer, we have to hope that they could suddenly realize what they’d done, be sorry for it and truly change for the better. We’d have to be hoping for this to happen, for their sake, and to be happy if it did. Of course, they’d still have to go to jail for what they’d done, but we’d be happy for them as they make a change for the better inside their own being.
Who should have unconditional love?
Obviously, we should have unconditional love for ourselves. We’re stuck with ourselves and can’t get away. It doesn’t mean we have to like ourselves! Sometimes we do stupid things and it’s ok to dislike what we’ve done and think we’ve been really stupid. But the unconditional love should kick in as we acknowledge that we have fundamental value as a person, we give ourselves some compassion because we know we’ve been going through a tough time and we hope and expect that in the future we’ll do better. That’s unconditional love.
It’s also common to see unconditional love between parents and their children. Truly, no matter what a child does (even murder), a parent often continues to realize their value as a person, has compassion for their plight in life and hopes that good things will happen for them in the future. Unconditional love!
We all want unconditional love?
We’d all like everyone else to have unconditional love for us. If you think about it for a bit, you’ll see it’s true.
Think of the time when someone is being really mean to you because of something you’ve done. Normally, we’d like them to acknowledge that we’re a valid person that just made a mistake because our life is a bit difficult right now that we’ll try and do better in the future. That’s what we know about ourselves and we’d like other people to see that and acknowledge it. They don’t have to “like” us, but they can give us respect and compassion.
That’s unconditional love.
Should we refuse to give unconditional love?
Most religions think that the creator gives us unconditional love. We have unconditional love for ourselves. We have unconditional love for our children. Everyone in the world wants unconditional love. It’s 100% free to give. Why wouldn’t we give unconditional love to everyone?
My answer to this last question is because it’s hard.
It’s not easy
A problem I have is judging people, in some way, as soon as I see them. Maybe I don’t like the way they dress, the car they drive, the way they talk, and the list goes on. When I think about this it seems that, at some level, I’m instantly relegating them to being less important than me. That’s a real problem! In a flash, I’m not offering them the respect they deserve as a human being and that’s violating the first requirement of unconditional love. This may sound a bit harsh, but I feel that these types of judgements and those snide remarks or thoughts are signs of a lack of respect and compassion.
I don’t have to “like” (in the modern sense of the word) a person to have unconditional love for them. I have to respect them as human beings (in this way – the only real way – we are all equally important), I have to have compassion for their current situation and problems in life and I have to honestly wish them well for the future.
It’s definitely not easy, but it’s a great goal.
Imagine a world with universal unconditional love
In my daydreams, I think about what the world would be like if EVERY person had unconditional love for EVERY other person. Wow, that’s hard to imagine, but I think just about every problem in the world would disappear. I think it would put an end to wars, famine, greed, violence, and the world would be a wonderful place to live.
I think it’s a good goal for me to work on extending my ability to give unconditional love a little more every day. It’s not easy, but it’s certainly worth the effort. Sometimes I wonder if this is the goal of life, if it’s like a test. We’re given free will and the test is to see if we can choose to give unconditional love to EVERYONE. If everyone gave unconditional love to everyone else, would the Earth turn into heaven?
Where am I wrong with this analysis of unconditional love? I’d love to hear your thoughts.