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Can Unconditional Love Really Be Unconditional?

By Doug Kelley

July 2000


Is It Possible for Unconditional Love, Free Will and Moral Excellence to Coexist?

There is a diverse dichotomy in the world today regarding how people approach Unconditional Love, Free Will and Moral Excellence. Many believe that unconditional love is warranted toward all, others do not.

"Unconditional" is defined as: "1. not conditional; 2. not modified or restricted by reservations; 3. not contingent; not determined or influenced by someone or something else" (WordNet (r) 1.6, (c) 1997 Princeton University).

Unconditional love basically says: "I accept you for who you are, no matter who you are; and for whatever you do, no matter what you do." Some believe that God gives unconditional love to only those who love Him. Others believe that God gives unconditional love to every living thing.

Closely related is the concept of free will. Free will is an innate gift given to all sentient beings. Free will allows us to make our own choices, and to not be judged by others for the choices we make. The Encyclopedia Britannica defines "free will" as: "the power or capacity to choose among alternatives or to act in certain situations independently of natural, social, or divine restraints."

Lastly, moral excellence is something that all great people have striven toward for millennia. "Moral" is defined as: "Teaching or exhibiting goodness or correctness of character and behavior: a moral lesson; Conforming to standards of what is right or just in behavior; virtuous: a moral life. (The American Heritage(r) Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition Copyright (c) 1996, 1992 by Houghton Mifflin Company.)

Moral excellence includes the aspect of virtue. "Virtue" is defined as: "the quality of doing what is right and avoiding what is wrong [syn: virtuousness, moral excellence]" (WordNet (r) 1.6, (c) 1997 Princeton University).

So "moral excellence" carries the connotation of being morally upright and just; doing the right thing; treating others in a superior manner; striving for higher virtues and qualities.

But can these three qualities-unconditional love, free will, and moral virtue-coexist at the same time?

Unconditional Love and Moral Excellence

If society showed unconditional love toward criminals and wrongdoers, what kind of civil orderliness would reign? If citizens have no restraints, would anarchy and mayhem be the result? Would any person truly be safe from the aggression of another?

Take the case of Hitler. If God does in fact bestow unconditional love, then Hitler's murderous actions and extreme reprehensibility are moot points. For unconditional love-by definition-does not care about the extent or nature of the action or atrocity. It does not care about moral excellence. If true and unconditional love is a reality, then Hitler is not only forgiven, but also loved by God.

Furthermore, if unconditional love is a reality, then another universal law must be denied: "You will reap what you sow." If a person is loved unconditionally, then taking responsibility for one's actions loses significant weight. It would be easy to reason, "Why bother to do what is morally upright? It really doesn't matter in the end because I am loved unconditionally."

Now some may object and say that just because God loves someone unconditionally, it doesn't mean that He won't punish them. While this could be true, the punishment must out of necessity not go to the point of eternal non-existence, otherwise could unconditional love really have been shown toward the dead person? To say, "Maybe death was the expression of unconditional love by God for this person" is to go out on a limb, because it just doesn't stack up.

One Christian website has two articles regarding this subject. In the article, "God's Unconditional Love," the author wrote:

"We declare that God's love for us is unconditional - then act exactly the opposite! Do not think that God can be swayed one way or the other by what you do or don't do. God's love is unconditional. Unconditional means just that. No conditions!!! No strings attached!!! Jesus took care of the conditions and the strings!!! God does not love you more because you are good or because you are holy or because you gave your whole paycheck to your pastor or because you are a nice guy. God does not love you less because you are bad or because you smoke or because you stink or because you eat and/or sleep a lot or because you sinned. God is God and you are you. It might be impossible for you to love unconditionally, but with God it's not only possible, it's easy. That's God's very nature. God is Love!"

The same author also wrote another article on the same website entitled, "God Does Not Love You." The author contradicts the concept of unconditional love when he writes:

"What I am going to tell you is the most brutal thing you will ever hear in your life and the most brutal thing I will say in my life but it is true, very, very true. "God does not love you!" I'll say it again - God does not love you if you haven't come to the Cross of Jesus Christ. Oh my dear friend, I wish I can say the contrary but I would be lying to you. But what's more serious is that I'll be going against the word of God. God is God. Either He loves you with an all-consuming love or He hates you with an all-consuming wrath. To say that God loves you would benefit you nothing. It will just make you feel comfortable in your damned condition.

"... Even if I am a million times more holy than the person who in our eyes is the pinnacle of holiness here on earth, still I will be so far short on being accepted by God. I would still be under God's wrath and bound for hell." (Source:

I personally find it impossible to reconcile these two diametrically opposed arguments. If God displays unconditional love only to those "who have come to the Cross of Jesus Christ," then it must be "conditional unconditional love." It is not reasonable to allow exemption from responsibility to a person for any and every sin, just because they claim to have "accepted the Lord in their hearts." Moral excellence could not exist within this environment.

Also, what about the paradox of showing unconditional love to different people? If God were to show unconditional love to Hitler by excusing his heinous crimes against humanity, then how can God at the same time show unconditional love toward those that Hitler murdered? What could be said of the justice? the virtue? the morality of such a thing?

Unconditional Love and Free Will

Consider unconditional love and free will. If each person exercises free will without respect for others, then love is certainly not displayed, let alone unconditional love. The same is true with moral excellence, since love is itself a moral virtue.

In the example of criminals and wrongdoers, it is no secret that the justice system cannot display unconditional love and still protect its citizens from harm. Those who choose to be criminals are obviously exercising their right of free will, but also are choosing a life far removed from moral excellence. If one chooses to harm another, then the victim's free will has been compromised.


The only logical conclusion, then, is that unconditional love, free will and moral excellence, simply cannot coexist and remain inherently intact. A much more plausible concept is "conditional unconditional love," that is to say, that there is a scale of acceptable behavior and within that range, "unconditional love" can govern.


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