I once heard Johnny Depp say in an interview, “Family is important because it is the only unconditional love we can ever experience.”
He is on to something, but this is far from true. Do you have a family? Do they love you “unconditionally”? The answer is no. Jesus said a lot about familial love, and his conclusion seemed to be that parents can stumble into giving their children decent gifts despite the fact that they are – at root – evil.
But Jack Sparrow has boiled the issue down for us. He correctly identified what it is we are looking for, and for that rare bit of honesty we can forgive that he told us the wrong place to look for it. We want to be loved unconditionally. At least we say we do.
Have you ever started a relationship – perhaps just a friendship – and what drew you in was that the other person didn’t judge you. You were attracted by the seeming ‘unconditionality’ of their affection towards you. It was refreshing. You felt free to be yourself. Then two weeks later you won’t return their calls. Why? You can’t stand the pressure of being as nice to them as they are to you. Unconditionality is a turn off, because we simply don’t believe in it. We are subconsciously crushed by the imperative to be as nice to them as they are to us.
We believe the one condition of unconditionality is that we reciprocate unconditionality. Which is the most daunting condition that could be attached to anything. It is so daunting it spoils all the joy of the initial gift of unconditional friendship.
We say our parents love us unconditionally, but many people are still laboring to win their parents’ approval years after they have left their house, or even after their parents have died.
‘Unconditional love’ sounds so nice, but we have been burned too many times on this earth to believe in it.
This is precisely why the gospel is wildly confrontational. The gospel declares that you are loved though you have nothing to give in return.
If we proceed to respond to this unconditional proclamation in the same way that we respond to our new friend’s ‘unconditional’ love – by laboring until we don’t return their calls – then perhaps we are missing the point. If you are burned out by Christianity, if you feel you have failed the standards too many times, if you avoid God with as much intensity as you avoid your selfless friends, then perhaps you need to hear the gospel once more.
The gospel says, You are free by Christ’s blood because he says so. God has made a promise that won’t be broken. You didn’t earn it, and it’s not your job to prove that you could have earned it. You have a friend who won’t leave you. It is unconditional, slightly offensive, and wildly liberating.