Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Unconditional or Not?

If fundamental truths about God's nature get distorted, then faith becomes impossible (see Lectures on Faith, 1,2,3.).  Impossible because without understanding the true characteristics of deity, doubt will exist in the mind, and doubt and faith cannot coexist according to the lectures.  One of the required foundational elements for faith according to Joseph Smith was an understanding that "God is Love".

With that in mind consider the following three quotes, all from the Church produced Ensign magazine.

"God is our father; he loves us; his love is infinite and unconditional. His sorrow is great when we disobey his commandments and break his laws. He cannot condone our transgressions, but he loves us and wants us to return to him. I know of no greater inducement to repentance and reconciliation with our Father in Heaven than an awareness of his unconditional love for us personally and individually."  - Elder Ronald E. Poelman, "God's Love for Us Transcends Our Transgressions," Ensign, May 1982, page 27.

"The greatest example of love available to all of us is, of course, found in the scripture from John: 'For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.' (John 3:16.) By the greatest of all acts of love and by this supreme sacrifice, God set the pattern. He demonstrated to us that His love was unconditional and sufficient to encircle every person."  Marvin J. Ashton, We Serve That Which We Love, Ensign, May 1981, Page 22

I came across something from the Feb 2003 Ensign that had a somewhat different message and which made me pause.

"Divine Love Is Also Conditional : While divine love can be called perfect, infinite, enduring, and universal, it cannot correctly be characterized as unconditional. The word does not appear in the scriptures. On the other hand, many verses affirm that the higher levels of love the Father and the Son feel for each of us—and certain divine blessings stemming from that love—are conditional.  Understanding that divine love and blessings are not truly 'unconditional' can defend us against common fallacies such as these: 'Since God's love is unconditional, He will love me regardless …'; or 'Since 'God is love,' He will love me unconditionally, regardless …' These arguments are used by anti-Christs to woo people with deception."  Russell M. Nelson, "Divine Love," Ensign, Feb. 2003

I get that there are some fallacies that we should avoid.  They are lazy, and pretend assumptions about God's love leading you to believe God will reward you the same when you disobey him, as if you obeyed.  That is obviously false.  However this last quote could be misread very easily.  The statement "Divine Love is also Conditional" seems at odds (well, it's directly contradictory) with the other statements by other authorities.   When the nature of God's love undergoes a word changes, and word clarifications, and word definitions I think it can become a head game, rather than something our hearts can understand and experience.  It was said "unconditional" is a word not found in scripture.  Neither is universal, yet that word was employed as an adjective.  I respect Elder Nelson a great deal.  I think his message is aimed to help us avoid fallacies which would leave us disappointed in the end were we to buy into them.

However what I also sense is the supreme importance to not misunderstand this element to Gods nature.  It can prevent a person from being able to exercise proper faith according to Joseph Smith.  And I"m confident Joseph, who was in the presence of God and Christ is a reputably authority on the subject.  There is clearly some confusion between the messages quoted above.  I point this out for others to notice and resolve for themselves because many things are being taught, and this topic is so very important.

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