Is God’s love conditional?
Published: 5 May 2018 (GMT+10)
It is important for all Christians to be able to ‘give an answer’ when called upon to defend God’s character. Tom, U.S. asked:
If God loves humans unconditionally then why would he destroy them all in a global flood no matter how sinful they were? It would seem God’s love is conditional. The condition being the lack of sin.
Lita Cosner, CMI–US, responds:
You asked why God would destroy all those people in a global flood if He’s loving, but really if this is a problem, it’s bigger than that, because the Bible teaches that all who perish without trusting Christ for the forgiveness of their sins will die. So we have to ask not only why God would destroy all those people in a global Flood, but what about the billions of unbelievers who have died since then?
God is perfectly loving. This is consistently portrayed as one of His attributes at a foundational level. When Moses requested to see God’s glory, God proclaimed:
“The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6–7).
This statement is referenced over and over again throughout the rest of Scripture—just a search for “steadfast love” will reveal how much that’s attributed to God. But notice that God’s justice is also emphasized. Both are glorious attributes of God, and neither diminishes the other. In fact, God’s justice is part of God being perfectly loving. If you’ve ever been wronged and longed for justice to be served, or even more if you’ve seen a loved one wronged and wanted justice for your loved one, you can understand how wanting guilt to be appropriately judged is not a bad thing. In fact, that can be a godly impulse when it’s informed by what Scripture teaches. And the reason that can be a godly impulse is because God is perfectly just and will make sure absolute justice is served. That’s a problem for us, because all of us have sinned—we’ve all done things that deserve judgment, even if we were only judged by our own moral standards, even before we consider God’s perfect standard.
That’s why the first attribute in that list mentioned, “merciful”, is so important. Mercy is God’s unmerited favor to sinners. How can God forgive iniquity and transgression and sin—three terms covering all sorts of offenses to God—while remaining true to His nature and enacting perfect justice? The answer is found in Christ.
In the Old Testament sacrificial system, the blood of sacrificed animals covered over the sins of the people, but it could never atone completely, and it could never be a perfect, final sacrifice. It had to be repeated over and over again. It pointed to the need for a final sacrifice, a perfect atonement.
It is in Christ that we can understand how God can love sinful humans without neglecting justice. Jesus lived a perfect life, keeping God’s Law and never sinning. Then He willingly shed His blood on the cross as a sacrifice for sin. On the third day He was raised as proof that His sacrifice was accepted.
How is this applied to us? When we believe in Christ and trust in Him alone for the forgiveness of our sins, God applies Christ’s sacrifice as payment for our sin—meaning we no longer face condemnation. And Christ’s righteous life is credited to us, as if we’d perfectly obeyed the way He did. So legally, we have an ‘innocent’ standing before God the moment we believe and trust in Him. As we walk as believers, there is a process of sanctification, where God progressively makes us actually more righteous and Christ-like. This process continues through this life, and will be completed at the resurrection of the dead, when believers will be given new perfect bodies and we will be incapable of sin, nor will we want to.
It can’t be emphasized enough how costly our salvation was—the Son of God had to undergo the most horrific experience possible. He is the holiest being, and He had to become sin for us. He was perfectly righteous, and he had to experience the judgment that each one of us deserved. The physical pain and anguish was bad, but far worse was the spiritual separation and judgment.
So the question isn’t “If God is perfectly loving, why would he allow all those people to die?”. Rather, we should marvel at the amazing love of God to save anyone, especially when the price was the death of the Son of God.
Ultimately, people are condemned because of their sin. People who perished at the time of the Flood were guilty of the same sins as are committed all around the world today. God has given a way to escape judgment, but there is no other way. Can you imagine the insult to Christ if anything else could save us, when He gave His life and took on the judgment for sin in our place?
So God’s love is conditional in a sense. We have to come to Him through Christ, and only through Christ. But those who do so will find Him to be a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.