John 3:16…”For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
The above is the most famous scripture in the New Testament. That’s the message. It’s everywhere. “For God so loved the world…” But does God love His creation unconditionally? That was a question put before me earlier today.
The above picture was taken back in February of this year by me at E.H. Sloop Chapel in Crossnore, North Carolina. I was on sabbatical in the area, and I’d heard of the work of this chapel and school, and about this fresco pictured, and decided to check it out. It’s a fresco by, Benjamin F. Long, IV, titled – “Suffer the Little Children.” It’s relevant to this discussion because of what I experienced when viewing it. I had entered the chapel on the other end of the building and I proceeded straight for the altar. It was completely void of other people at that time. Just God showing me what he wanted to and me following the prodding. The first thing I did was kneel on the first step and pray. When I was finished, I looked up above and saw Psalm 121 -“I lift up my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from? My help comes from The Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” I nodded in agreement, as the Spirit was giving me one of those hugs that it so often does in moments like those. Then I stood and turned around.
My eyes took in this enormous and magnificent piece of ordained artwork. But they were quickly drawn to the bottom left hand corner onto the dark haired child with bangs. His eyes were looking directly into mine as they are any viewer of this work. But there was a twist. That child was me. As I stood there gawking alone in this chapel, it was as if myself rose from its two dimensional limitations and became whole to greet me. The child looks exactly like me at the same age. My mouth was gaping. And in my head and heart, the Sprit was impressing loudly on me – “You’ve always been His.” I’ve strayed far and wide in life, but my first memories are of children’s bible studies in my neighborhood around 4-5 years old, and this experience took me right back to then. “You’ve always been His.” The kid in the picture is standing back, looking at us and not Christ, and seems to be asking, “Is this guy for real?” I was given an answer to that in E.H. Sloop Chapel.
Does God love us unconditionally? When that question was posed, I raised my hand, “Yes.” I was then instructed I was wrong, and that the correct answer is, “No. God doesn’t love us unconditionally. Scripture provides condition after condition.” I don’t agree. All I see in scripture is a God that is nothing but a bottomless sea of unconditional love. Otherwise, he would have ended with the flood and washed his hands of the matter.
It’s funny, because I’ve been struggling mighty lately with the concept of – Free Will. Because everything is centered upon it. Figure out free will, and the doors start opening one after another in God’s great mystery of creation. In our thinking of such, we go all the way back to the garden. God creates man to be the caretaker of his creation, and then he creates woman to be his partner and companion. It’s the paradise we all wish were our existence. They’re strolling around naked, Adam is naming animals, and all is wonderful. And this is key – God is WITH them in the garden. Genesis 3:8…”Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.”
God is IN the garden walking “in the cool of the day.” The entire point of the cross is to redeem us to that state to where we can be in the presence of our God. To understand free will, we have to go back to what was before Adam’s fall. In God’s perfect unconditional love, he didn’t create man to be a puppet to His whims. He wanted man to love him because man chose to do so. That’s the law of love. It can’t be forced or fabricated. He had to create the means to choose this perfect existence. Genesis 2: 16-17…”And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.’ “
And there it is. Man, and woman, have perfect existence in the presence of God. Everything is at their fingertips. No disease, no violence, no sadness, no tears, no death…perfect existence. But God gave them a choice. The tree of knowledge of good and evil. “If you love me, and want to be with me, leave that tree alone.”God had to put that tree there to satisfy unconditional love. I know that sounds ridiculous. It’s literally a condition. “If you love me don’t eat from this tree.” That’s a condition. But it has to be there, or else there is no basis for unconditional to begin with. They would just be programmed that way. Man and woman decide to eat from the tree of good and evil. They decide to disobey God. Free will.
God could have ended it right there. Right? We have no idea if we are just one tiny little speck of God’s massive creations expanding to universe after universe. We don’t know. But we have to assume that after that decision in the garden, God could have just wiped it away as if it never were. He didn’t. He never has. If that’s not unconditional love, I don’t know what is. From that point forward of free will given to man being used to turn on his creator, it’s been nothing but disaster after disaster…all caused by free will. And a God that refuses to give up on us, continuing to call out to us – “Let me save you. I love you purely. Please come home.” No matter what God did, man continued to choose that one tree. Time after time. Read the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah. Listen to God speak through them to man. It’s terrifying. But even so, it always comes back to God’s sentiment of, “I should fully destroy you because it’s exactly what you deserve. But I won’t. I will spare enough of you to continue on.” UNCONDITIONAL LOVE.
I can’t speak for our Lord. I made the mistake of adding my thoughts 2 paragraphs ago as being His, and he messed up my writing program. True story. I had to get rid of it and start again without that. But I can speak to how I feel the process might have looked like – God, having tried everything and realizing man wasn’t going to turn, finally decided, “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” That’s Jesus Christ. That’s why He came. That’s who He is. God. God’s perfect unconditional love coming to earth to live one perfect human life. And in doing so, reconciling us (all of us) back to Him and the conditions of the original garden. It’s a GIFT. Not a condition. We must believe that our Lord did this. All that do so will not perish but have eternal life. Is that a condition to the gift? God tells us it is not. It’s a reaction to the gift. The correct reaction.
So what about all that came after the resurrection and Jesus leaving the earth? What about Romans 6 where Paul describes “Dead to Sin, Alive in Christ?” This…When the Shepherd (Christ) comes for his lost sheep (us) and the sheep accepts his gift of salvation, we are given an all-new life. Our true life. We are born again by the Spirit of God placed within our soul. That’s exactly what happened to me. Old Me, the one that God blew into my nostrils and gave me earthly life, is still dying as was determined by the decision in the garden, but the New Me, is eternal. Old Me is still here, dying, capable of the same sinning he always was, but New Me that began as an infant in understanding, is growing and expounding by the day. Killing what was and transforming to what IS. I have no control over that. It’s written on my soul. Compelled by the Spirit in my heart and mind. Anyone that knows me can testify to the changes within in me. There are still plenty of changes yet to come. It’s a process. But it’s not me doing it. It’s the Holy Spirit. I was told, “You’ve always been His.” I am. His. Because of my own free will, I chose to come home.
By the blood of the cross and the power of the resurrection – You can make that choice, too! Why? Because our Father, our perfect Lord, loves us all unconditionally. Always has.