Is unconditional love a bad idea?
I came across a Valentine's Day column by Dennis Prager, who's a conservative Jewish radio talk show host, with the provocative title "Unconditional love: what a crock." He makes six points, five of which I have no substantial problem with. But then there is point #3.
3. That is one reason the notion of "unconditional love" is foolish. The fact is we all earn love, and it is a good thing to have to do so. What possible good purpose can the belief that your spouse loves you unconditionally – i.e., no matter how you act – serve?
For starters, it might facilitate more honest communication within marriage. If you are sure that your spouse loves you apart from the question of whether you deserve it, then it's a lot easier to discuss your own failures and shortcomings with your spouse, and vice versa.
If we believe our spouse loves us no matter what we do, what would motivate us to be on our best behavior at all times? Why be kind even when we are in a foul mood?
Because I love her, nitwit! I treat my wife with respect BECAUSE I RESPECT HER, not because I'm afraid she won't love me if I don't.
Why work to stay attractive if he will love me no matter how much I neglect how I look?
Do not adjust your set, kids ... that isn't Dennis getting in touch with his feminine side, it's just Dennis hypothetically assuming the voice of a woman for a second.
Why continue to pay attention to her — like regularly calling her from work — if I know that even if I ignore her, she will continue to love me?
Maybe because you're actually interested in her and what she did during the time you were apart? I dunno, it's just a suggestion. And if that doesn't work for you, maybe you should love others, including your spouse, out of obedience to God, because it's what he commands you to do. Or maybe you should love her out of gratitude for loving YOU. Any one of those strikes me as a better reason than loving her because you're afraid that if you don't, she won't love you back.
Unconditional love is not a good idea.
Have you tried it?
I don't know where it originated, but I am quite certain it's relatively recent, a product of an age that has put primary importance on feelings. With the possible exception of a parent's love for a young child, unconditional love is not a good idea among people, and it's probably not a good idea concerning God's love for us.
Then why is parent-to-child the primary metaphor used in the New Testament to describe God's relationship to people? (Hold onto that thought for a second.) In your second point, Dennis, you said, "In other relationships [than male-female sexual ones], it is bad to seek to be loved." I think this contradicts what you're trying to say now: that God's love is conditional. Because, you see, if you're going to argue that God's love is conditional, then you can't also claim that it's a bad thing to seek it!
I am familiar with no biblical basis for the notion that God loves us no matter how much cruelty and evil we engage in
It comes from a little thing called the New Testament. You might have heard of it. I realize that as a Jew you don't hold the New Testament in the same regard that I do as a Christian, but you can't be excused for that when you're writing for a Christian publication.
(God's love of His Chosen People, Israel, is specifically depicted as conditional upon Israel's behavior),
Well, yes and no. The Old Testament more often mentions the mandate for us to love God than it talks about God loving us. Among the handful of references we do get to God loving Israel, some of them sound conditional and some don't. For instance, look at Deuteronomy 7:6–13. God's love sounds unconditional in verse 7 and conditional in verse 13. In 1 Kings 10:9 God's love sounds unconditional, in Prov. 15:9 it doesn't. Is God's mercy depicted as conditional? Yes. Is God's love depicted as conditional? Not consistently.
or for the notion that God loved Adolf Hitler and Mother Teresa equally.
Will God reward A.H. and M.T. equally? No, but that's a matter of God's justice, not his love. As you say later in your article, love is only one of God's attributes.
Anyway, the idea that God loves everyone unconditionally doesn't necessarily entail his loving everyone equally. We could say that God's unconditional, universal love for his creation is a sort of baseline: God loves all of us, even Hitler, because he created us and never stops wanting us to repent and seek relationship with him. But those of us who do seek that relationship, like Mother Teresa, may well find additional depths of God's love beyond that baseline, whereas those who reject God's love may well have to take their chances with his justice.
Frankly, I would be disappointed in such a God. It renders Him a love machine whose love cannot be affected by our behavior, not a loving being who is affected by how we act. It renders His love amoral. And it prevents us from growing up.
"What a crock," indeed. The larger point Prager is trying to make is a good one: that love — God's or otherwise — is not to be trampled upon or taken for granted. I just don't think he needs to throw out the concept of unconditional love to make that point.
So, Dennis, before you go to bed, I've got a little book you should read. It's called First John. Won't take you long. If you want, you can even just skip ahead to chapter 4:
That's my Valentine's Day column. And for publishing a piece claiming that unconditional love is a bad idea, I'm sending WorldNetDaily a nice big box of chocolates. To be specific, the Whizzo Quality Assortment.
Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.
He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.
Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.