Christofferson: God’s Love Is Unconditional #ldsconf

*Breathe in*
God’s love is unconditional.
*Breathe out*
*Breathe in*
God’s love is unconditional.
*Breathe out*

Say it with me.

A couple of quick notes. We were extremely fortunate to have an evangelical friend running the BCC Twitter feed during Elder Christofferson’s talk: the tweets in this post are hers.

Elder Christofferson points out that the term “unconditional” does not appear in the scriptures, but there is “one sense” in which the expression is true. This is is the only sense that matters.

It would be profoundly un-Christian to suggest that God’s love for us is conditioned. Elder Christofferson does not do this in his talk (he does refer to Elder Nelson’s prior address on this similar topic, but his take is somewhat different). Elder Christofferson focuses on what it means to abide in the love of God, how to focus our lives to stay embraced in God’s love for us. Viewing this as limits or conditions to God’s love is a heresy.

This is the fundamental difference, which brings us out of heresy: God’s unconditional love is the greatest constant in the universe, but God also has established commandments and covenants. Some of God’s greatest blessings are conditioned on faithfulness. This does not mean that God’s love is conditional, but rather that our ability to understand and accept God’s love for us will grow as we obey Him and come to know Him. God is broadcasting His love throughout creation: whether we hear Him clearly will depend on how we attune ourselves. That’s a simplistic metaphor but an apt one. Even our evangelical friends will likely agree that accepting Jesus Christ is required to actualize God’s love in our lives in a salvific way. Mormonism’s additional hoops do not alter this — and, crucially, jumping through those hoops without ever understanding and accepting Jesus Christ as savior will not save you.

Further, and perhaps most importantly, if we are to emulate Jesus Christ, we too must show unconditional love. It is that simple.

So, dear Mormon friends: if you want to be Christian, repeat after me: God’s love is unconditional.


  1. Amen to this, Steve. God’s unconditional love doesn’t take away our need to follow His commandments, but it is, as you say, the unchanging center and constant of our universe.

  2. Amen and amen. Thank you so much. God’s love *is* unconditional. But our ability to receive the full benefit of it is conditioned on our willingness to accept that love.

  3. That word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.
    “whether we hear Him clearly will depend on how we attune ourselves.” Attune synonyms : accustom, adjust, adapt, acclimatize, CONDITION, accommodate, assimilate; acclimate (emphasis added)

    If it makes you feels better, you can say that Gods love is indiscriminate. Because he does give it to all without any regard to race, gender, culture, past, present or future sin. He gives it to all and “all are alike unto God”.
    But the receipt of that love is conditioned on our asking for, seeking and receiving it. I agree the we need to attune (i.e. Condition) ourselves.

    To fully receive and reciprocate Christs love we must follow his example and teaching. “If ye love me, keep my commandments (read conditions)”. And any blessing of that love that God is willing to give to all indiscriminately is obtained ” by obedience to that law (read condition) upon which it it predicated.”

    I agree fully with our apostle of God, that the idea that this man made and prolific (but admittedly catchy) idiom “Gods love is unconditional” or the possible misinterpretations associated with the semantics of the term unconditional love should not get in the way of Gospel truth.

    Gods love is infinite, eternal, universal, available to all, freely given and is received on conditions of repentance. And that is Christian.

  4. Cameron, explain to me where we’re disagreeing?

  5. Yet, I believe on judgement day we will find a banquet of mercy, a ring, and a robe. I dislike the banquet table of consequences. I do believe in consequences, but I wonder if on judgement day mercy will prevail. As Pope Francis writes ” The name of God is Mercy.”

  6. The issue is that it is not God’s love that is conditional, it is our ability to receive the fullest expression of that love that is conditioned on repentance.

    Notice that Elder Christofferson did not say that it is wrong to say that God’s love is unconditional he said only that we prefer to use scriptural terms to the extent that “unconditional” might be misunderstood to suggest things that it doesn’t mean. That’s very different from condemning it as a “man made” idiom.

  7. Well I think he loves us whether we hear him or not. So while in one sense, we may not experience that love with conditioning ourselves to hear/feel it, he still loves us. We don’t have to do anything to qualify for his love.

    I’ve always believed that. It came home really hard to me one day. I was listening to a dude describe how he believes God sees us while standing in an old apartment building hallway in Russia. He drew a picture on the wall of God’s wrath coming down on humanity, with Christ interceding as the only thing preventing our destruction by fire. I believe that we make God sad when we sin, we may make him angry, but he still loves us. That is why he is sad and angry. Because he loves us. And the love is overwhelming. And unconditional. I am a broken sinner. But I don’t believe God loves me any less because of it. That is what is so amazing. God so loved the world that he sent his Only Begotten Son to save the world – and he did it for a world of sinners. Their sin didn’t stop him from sending his Son in the first place; it’s not going to stop his love now.

    And I think that is important enough for people to understand that we should be able to say it without caveats or additions. Sometimes that is what people will need to hear.

    That said, I don’t disagree that most people are going to need to pay attention in some way in order to receive it. And that when you repent you receive the blessings of that love in a way that you cannot without repentance. But I also think we need to tell people that God loves them.

    Disclaimer: I missed the afternoon session, so I haven’t read more than the summary of Elder Christofferson’s talk.

  8. Steve, I’m not disagreeing. I’m reconciling. I think your interpretation of unconditional love is correct, however, that is often not what is understood by unconditional love. That was his point and why he says in one sense it is true, but there a better ways. I’m just pointing out that we not shy away from saying we receive Gods love based on conditions (and just use synonyms) because we are afraid of contradicting a popular saying.

  9. I don’t mean to be argumentative , I think we are all on the same page. I just wanted to throw my two cents in to help anyone who may want question the term unconditional love like Elder Christofferson and not feel like a non- Christian.

  10. God’s love is unconditional. There is nothing in the least wrong with that sentence. It is possible to teach the principles that Elder Christofferson was getting at without suggesting any qualification on the unconditional nature of God’s love. The bottom line is this: if people understand Elder Christofferson’s sermon as discouraging the use of the phrase “God’s unconditional love,” then the sermon has fallen short.

  11. Last Lemming says:

    While in one sense that is true, the descriptor unconditional appears nowhere in scripture.

    And with that, my appreciation for Elder Packer grows at least one size.

    “Some things that are true [meaning all but the one sense] are not very useful.”

  12. Last Lemming,

    By your comment, you appear to indicate that the fact that “unconditional love of God” does not appear in scripture is not useful. If so, I must respectfully disagree. How else do we learn the characteristics of God than by scripture? If God’s unconditional love is not in scripture, then where did the concept come from, and when, and in what context? If the concept of the unconditional love of God is not in scripture, then how is God’s love in scripture different from unconditional love? Is it possible we have created a false idea of who God is by using the shorthand term “unconditional love of God” instead of understanding the specific teachings of God’s love found in the scriptures? I’m not trying to answer the questions here, but rather to point out that identifying the absence of the “unconditional love of God” in the scripture can lead to asking questions, and answering the questions can bring us closer to understanding the true nature of God and discarding misconceptions of God.

  13. Adam, the absence of something in scripture is proof of absolutely nothing.

  14. God is love.

  15. Bingo.

  16. Except, Cameron, people aren’t using the phrase “God’s love is unconditional” to mean something it doesn’t. It means what it means. That our church leaders are balking at the phrase is worrying. Why can’t Elder Christofferson just say “Our ability to receive the full benefit of *God’s unconditional love* is conditioned on our willingness to accept that love.”? God’s unconditional love is a feature not a bug of the Plan of Salvation. Hopefully church leaders will regain comfort in acknowledging that.

  17. Well, if you consider the words of modern apostles to be scripture, then God’s unconditional love is in scripture. But more to the point, the concept of God’s unconditional love is all over the canonized scriptures even if the word unconditional isn’t.

  18. davidalexferg says:

    Unless I’m mistaken, unconditional love is a Calvinist doctrine closely linked to unconditional election. What they mean by unconditional love is that you as a saved-believer simply can’t sin enough to lose your place in heaven because God’s love simply can’t thwarted. That’s not exactly what Mormons believe. Sure, you can’t sin your way out of heaven. So it’s unconditional in that sense. But you can sin your way out of the Celestial kingdom. So it’s conditional in that sense. And I think that is the line that Elder Christofferson was walking, using different terms.

  19. pconnornc says:

    I guess I’m confused by the intended message here Steve, mostly as a result of your last line “So, dear Mormon friends: if you want to be Christian, repeat after me: God’s love is unconditional.”

    Is that an assertion that Elder Christofferson’s message is incorrect (or parts of it)? I want to give the benefit of the doubt, but it does come across as a criticism.

    Elder Christofferson’s message that “unconditional” can convey mistaken impressions about divine love, such as, God tolerates and excuses anything we do because His love is unconditional, or God makes no demands upon us because His love is unconditional, or all are saved in the heavenly kingdom of God because His love is unconditional seems appropriate for our times.

  20. David, the idea of “unconditional love” may have roots in Calvinism, but it’s not limited to Calvinist traditions. It shows up in Catholic thought, and, as JKC pointed out, has significant purchase in Mormon thought. E.g., E. Maxwell said, in Conference in 1976, that he was “stunned at his perfect, unconditional love of all.” And he wasn’t alone in the assertion

    As Steve and others have pointed out, God’s unconditional love doesn’t justify our bad actions. And, while I’m sure there are people who argue that it does, they’re in a super-tiny minority, and their misapprehension (if such a misapprehension exists) isn’t worth the cost of asserting a God who doesn’t love all of His children. It may take a couple extra words to really explain what we mean, but those extra words are worth the effort.

  21. Steve Evans,

    I typically appreciate your comments, but your pithy retort disappoints me. Please just make an attempt to understand the idea of the comment before responding. You say that the absence of something is proof of nothing, but this is a straw man, as neither Elder Christofferson nor I said the absence of the term “unconditional love” meant God did not love us unconditionally. Instead, I was pushing back about the idea that the absence of the term “unconditional love” in the scripture was “not very useful,” by pointing out that studying how God’s love is actually described in the scriptures (i.e. not with the word “unconditional”) could teach us something about how God chose to convey his love through prophets. I find that to be very useful. Perhaps you or Last Lemming don’t find it useful, and that’s fine, but that’s a different argument than “absence of something is proof of nothing.”

    Loursat, you say “God is love,” as if in retort to Elder Christofferson’s point that “unconditional love” is not stated in the scriptures, but obviously, the verse you cited also omits the term. As beautiful and true as this concept is, the words in this verse alone don’t teach us anything about the facets of God’s love. It’s the surrounding verses provide context to the verse you quoted and describe in more detail what John means when he says “God is love.”

  22. True Blue says:

    After praying about the POX the enlightenment I recieved is that yes Gods love is unconditional, and also that “if ye love me leep my commandments” refers to the main commandment he taught, to love our fellow man/woman,
    10 If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.
    11 These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.
    12 This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.

    Further if we discriminate against any of our fellows we are choosing to refuse to fully follow the commandment to love one another, so until we treat women and gays equally we are refusing to love one another, and as Christopherson says limiting our reception of Gods love.

    When we fully accept the commandment to love one another we will be a Zion society.

  23. pconnornc says:

    Sam – I’m not sure of the circles you run in, but in many Universalism is way beyond a “super-tiny minority” – even within the church. Fortunately our apostle wasn’t asserting “a God who doesn’t love all of His children” (not sure where that came from).

    Elder Christofferson’s message seems in line w/ Nephi’s prophecy of our day in 2 Nephi 28.

    Fortunately we have an apostle taking a “couple extra words” to really explain, both endorsing the divine and unconditional aspect of God’s love, as well as how we can understand it more richly.

  24. pconnornc says:

    True Blue – discriminate is a broad term. Even something as simple as our temple recommend process or baptism interviews can discriminate or disqualify someone from participation. That’s doesn’t revoke our love for them.

    If by the term you mean we do not withhold succor, support, concern, fellowship, assistance, etc – those are definitely key checkpoints for our love. If you assert that love means extending blessings such as taking of the sacrament, attending the temple, etc regardless of any behavior – I don’t think there is scriptural support for that. Though most of us are not judges in Israel, so our commission is to just love and nothing more.

    The Savior himself withheld his ministry from most – relying on others to bring his message and love. Some might try to construe that as discriminating and hence not fully loving – though we know better than that. Equal ministering in the same way to everyone, especially in this mortal life, is not the plan. Equal in love, equal in salvation, equal in eternal blessings is.

  25. God’s love is unconditional.

    Here is a list of some things that are conditional: the love of men and women; happiness; repentance; forgiveness; membership in the church; salvation.

    To the extent that commenters here confound God’s love with things that are conditional, they are not alone in the Christian world. It’s not hard to find debates on whether God’s love is unconditional, but those debates always mix up love with something else, usually forgiveness or salvation. Whether Elder Christofferson’s sermon falls into this trap is something I will not express an opinion about before I can look at it again more closely. However, it is troubling that some people here seem to think that extensive explanation and hedging are necessary to explain the meaning of God’s love. The reality is just not that complicated.

    Many Mormons, deep in their gut, believe that God’s love is a reward for righteousness. Many other Christians believe this too. Many people believe this even if they do not acknowledge it. Sometimes they do not acknowledge it even to themselves. It is one of the most common and most crippling false doctrines. When we teach the gospel, there should be no objective more important than helping each other to feel and understand God’s absolute and unconditional love for us. Above all else, that is why we should seek the Spirit’s help in our teaching, because it is the Spirit that manifests God’s love.

  26. Back to the original point, because I think there is probably more agreement than disagreement in the comments: If there are those who would discourage us from talking about God’s unconditional love, they are throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

  27. Perhaps the scripture never says that God’s love is unconditional because “conditional love” is not actually love. The implication that of course it’s unconditional, because that’s the only love there is.

  28. God’s unconditional love is a Calvinist doctrine inn the same sense that belief in the physical resurrection is a Roman Catholic doctrine.

    That is to say, yes Calvinists believe it, but so do all Christians.

  29. Loursat, I agree.

  30. Pconnor, I don’t think we’re disagreeing. Nor is my post intended to critique Elder Christofferson. Perhaps I am more anticipating those who would misinterpret his message in a way that would make Mormons seem more heretical than we already are.

  31. A few selections of scripture from when the Lord visited destruction on the earth and testified personally of it.

    “And behold, that great city Moroni have I caused to be sunk in the depths of the sea, and the inhabitants thereof to be drowned.Behold, that great city Zarahemla have I burned with fire, and the inhabitants thereof….And many great destructions have I caused to come upon this land, and upon this people, because of their wickedness and their abominations. O all ye that are spared because ye were more righteous than they…
    And it came to pass that there came a voice again unto the people, and all the people did hear, and did witness of it, saying:…if ye will repent and return unto me with full purpose of heart. But if not, O house of Israel, the places of your dwellings shall become desolate…”

    Can it be more clear the conditions God places on those who have received him by covenant?

    When we talk of unconditional love, we never ever ever ever think, change or you might die by drowning or fire. Those are pretty strong conditions, and I’m sure that the general way unconditional love is thought about does not allow this understanding of God in its paradigm. And yet we have to wrestle with it if we have the fullness of the gospel.

    This is where it’s important not to miss understand God even we talk of unconditional love. The phrase is easily misunderstood, and almost always requires you to pretend these previous passages of scripture don’t exist.

    I’m quite certain that if cities started burning and sinking into the ocean today, we’d be hearing how God has nothing to do with it because he loves us unconditionally mere minutes before the voice of the Lord started whispering these truths to us that this wouldn’t have happened if we repented.

    Am I saying all tragedy is a result of sin*? No. But plugging your ears and saying I’m not listening any time wise nuance to the phrase unconditional is discussed doesn’t help fully understand God.

    *Well clearly *we* wouldn’t be suffering earthquakes and destruction if Adam and Eve didn’t transgress so you can certainly link all tragedy back to disobedience to an extent. By that would be a tragedy of a different sort.

    Again, cities laid waste. And the potentially shallow, theological twinkie way of internalizing the phrase unconditional love causes many to reject God outright when confronted with tragedy.

    There’s a imbalance there that only the spirit can measure out. Words are just too easily argued over.

  32. GSO, nobody here is saying that God doesn’t place obligations on his followers, or that God’s approval, blessings, or freedom from God’s punishment are not conditioned, to some extent, on our willingness to follow those obligations. But his love is not conditioned on whether we follow those obligations, and nothing in that scripture or any other says otherwise.

  33. A Happy Hubby says:

    I look at things like this tattooed cussing pastor interviewed in the podcast titled “Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber On ‘Finding God In All The Wrong People” Sept 30 @ and think, “Now there is someone bringing people unto Christ – people that REALLY need it.” It feels to me that she unconditionally loves.

    I like the analogy that Patrick Mason put forward in his FAIR Mormon presentation where he says that the LDS church overloaded the “truth cart” with too many things. My cart broke and I am just now beginning to put a few things in my repaired belief cart. The first thing I could tolerate putting in there was a unconditionally loving God. Otherwise I felt I might as well stay an atheist if I felt like Frank in Levi Peterson’s book “The Backslider” where he initially thinks of God as “That SOB in the sky with his rifle scope cross-hairs aimed right at me waiting for me to slip up so he can pull the trigger” (my recalling of the words, not a direct quote). I feel too doomed with that type of God.

    So as I push my tattered faith cart down the uphill road, I listened to his talk and feel I can’t put it in the cart. At least not now – maybe forever. And in doing so I don’t feel any of God’s gun sites on me – instead I feel a God looking at my heart. That motivates me.

  34. “While divine love can be called perfect, infinite, enduring, and universal, it cannot correctly be characterized as unconditional.” RMN Ensign, February 2003 (If this was ever an address by RMN in addition to an Ensign article, I have been unable to find it).

    The 2003 article was the subject of a significant amount of discussion at the time, including its background in the prior lobbying of BRMcC among the Brethren to banish the word “unconditional” in reference to God’s love. While the word does not seem, until now, to have reappeared in conference talks or the Ensign, the attempt to banish it from the language or beliefs of the general LDS population did not work.

    If Elder Christofferson said there is even one sense in which it is true that God’s love is unconditional, that is an overdue, direct contradiction of RMN’s 2003 sentence quoted above. Careful study of the scriptures cited in the RMN article shows that in most cases his reading at the time simply and understandably confused “if-then” logic with “only if-then” logic. The one I could find that did not do that is itself contradicted only a few verses later in the same section of the D&C. The 2003 article also mixed up the concept of love with the concept of blessings contingent upon obedience to the laws upon which they are predicated. I suspect all of that 2003 confusion resulted from an overzealous attempt to counteract those notions of God’s unconditional love that include the idea that it doesn’t matter whether one keeps commandments to love God and neighbor, etc.

    Unfortunately, I have seen with certain home-teachees that belief that God’s love is conditional can be at least as damaging as confusing His love with certain contingent blessings. There are those “lost sheep” who continue in sin, not because they think God loves and will save them anyway, but because they have become convinced that, having sinned, the Good Shepherd does not love them and will not come after them, that His love is so conditional that they cannot repent and be made clean.

    Perhaps Elder Christofferson was attempting to lead us gently away from the 2003 quibbling over a word toward understanding that if we can recognize God’s love for us, we would naturally love Him and be motivated by that love to repent, to turn to Him, and to love/serve our neighbors (1 John 4:19-20) because we would have opened our hearts to allow Him to make us new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17) abiding in Him/His love (1 John 4:16). John 14:15 (“If ye love me, keep my commandments.”) may be understood as a description of the natural result of man’s loving God rather than an additional rule that all rules must always be kept in order to prove that one loves the ruler. Some versions of Mormonism seem to denigrate God’s love and His power to write His law in our hearts. (Jeremiah 31:33; Hebrews 8:10 and 10:16). Those versions seem to be grounded in part on a belief that fear of losing blessings or exaltation is a greater motivator than love, or perhaps on over-anxiousness to distinguish the restored gospel from Calvinism or other perceived misunderstandings. While fear can indeed be a strong motivator, I am unconvinced that it is an effective motivator toward abiding in God’s love.

  35. “While fear can indeed be a strong motivator, I am unconvinced that it is an effective motivator toward abiding in God’s love.”

    I agree with that. “Perfect love casteth out all fear.”

  36. Here’s an easy way to understand that God’s love truly is unconditional — he allegedly weeps when his creation does not follow his will. The reason he weeps is that he loves us even when we are disobeying and grinding the face of the poor. That is, he loves us unconditionally, and so does not cease to love us when we sin. That is unconditional love. We limit our own ability to bask in that love if we do not keep the commandments. But that does not mean God’s love is not unconditional — and Steve’s right to identify the suggestion that God’s love is not unconditional as heresy unsupported by the scriptures.

    I should add that at the same time Elder Christofferson inexplicably tried to give implicit support to President Nelson’s outlying theory that God’s love is not unconditional (conference talk circa 2005), several other speakers at this very general conference rehabilitated the doctrine that God’s love for all of his children is unconditional and that believing in this fact can lead us in the paths of righteousness and repentance.

  37. I have received personal revelation that God loves me and that his love for me is not affected by my accomplishments or lack thereof. I believe (as I have been taught in LDS teachings) that God knows and loves us perfectly and has prepared a future estate for us that will a blessing for each of us to inhabit.

    It worries me that we are so keen on limiting God’s love.

    It reminds me of a successful business man that had two sons. The first son was a chip of the old block. He excelled in academics, took business classes, took on important management roles in the company, and eventually succeeded his father in being CEO.

    The second son was more artistically inclined. He graduated with passing but unremarkable grades. He went on to study under some talented artists and practiced his technique in many different mediums. He tried to sell his works but that did not pan out so well. He eventually became a teacher of art at a local high school or community college. He is living a fulfilling life doing what brings him joy.

    Would we really want to suggest that the father loves the second son any less? Do we really want to define “the ultimate expression of God’s love” as who gets to be CEO?

  38. God’s love is unconditional!!!! As a TBM I hated his talk. While it didn’t say it, By declaring that God’s unconditional love is not found in scripture and immediately following that statement with focus on obedience, It implied that salvation and the gifts of god are earned or merited through our actions.
    To me one of the most beautiful truth’s is that God loves me no matter what. All blessings from God are gifts as such I can not demand them or purchase them through righteous action; I can only choose acknowledge and accept them or reject them.
    I can agree that our actions will show that we have accepted believe in his miraculous gift by acknowledging that God’s mercy is extended for every fault I have done, every fault I am doing today and every sin I will ever commit to me and everyone who has or will ever live.
    Only by putting my trust in a God that love’s unconditionally and will show mercy to every wrong for every person that will accept his gift I can have hope that he will have mercy for me for all the wrongs I have committed.

  39. Mephibosheth says:

    Aaron Brown’s comments in this thread at T&S regarding this issue I think get to the nub of the issue. I would link to his comments directly but they have changed their formatting and I don’t think it’s possible. Just scroll down.

  40. President Monson: “My dear sisters, your Heavenly Father loves you—each of you. That love never changes. It is not influenced by your appearance, by your possessions, or by the amount of money you have in your bank account. It is not changed by your talents and abilities. It is simply there. It is there for you when you are sad or happy, discouraged or hopeful. God’s love is there for you whether or not you feel you deserve love. It is simply always there” (

    He doesn’t use the word “unconditional” but he is definitely talking about unconditional love.

    The real question that Elder Nelson wanted to address in 2003 and that Elder Christofferson is attempting to address in this talk is whether there are consequences for sin. Of course there are! That has *nothing* to do with whether God loves us unconditionally (he absolutely does — the suggestion that he doesn’t is a *major* outlier opinion even among Mormon church leaders). It is precisely because he loves us unconditionally that he weeps when we disobey — because he knows what the consequences will be and is sad that the creation he loves unconditionally will not be able to avoid some of those consequences (to the extent they don’t accept his love through the Atonement) or rather is limiting its own access to God’s unconditional love.

  41. Honestly, I think this talk might have been Elder Christofferson’s attempt to address and correct the problems that came into our discourse and church culture following Elder Nelson’s earlier 2003 or 2005 talk in which Elder Nelson forcefully argued the idea that God’s love is unconditional is a heresy(!). Elder Christofferson wants to tone that down, big time. Perhaps he is aware, as I am, that some Sunday School teachers around the church are going on political harangues during Sunday School and citing Elder Nelson’s talk as justification, saying “well, God actually doesn’t love his children unconditionally — that is a false belief. As Elder Nelson taught, God doesn’t love gay people or people who are sinning or people who disagree with the November policy or democrats.” (I heard this straight from a Sunday School teacher in a lesson not six months ago, minus the “or democrats” part but it was also implicit.)

    Elder Christofferson perhaps thought his talk was going to put more nuance into this, perhaps steer people away from that particular interpretation of Elder Nelson’s earlier talk. But because Elder Christofferson did not seem to feel allowed to state unequivocally that God’s love is unconditional but our ability to receive it is limited by our own choices or something to that effect that keeps the unconditional nature of God’s love in the equation, his talk is going to have the opposite effect and will be interpreted by those who are using Elder Nelson’s talk this way as further support.

  42. To my ear there are two different debates going on in the “unconditional love” controversies.

    On the one hand, “unconditional love” is in some circles (Calvinist at the extreme, and a significant part of Protestant and Evangelical thought, so I understand) a signifier of a relationship between God and man so strong, so close, as to approach identity such that Mormons (and Catholics much earlier than Mormons) would say it denies agency. So when we (some form of “we”, whether that be BCC or Steve Evans or Elder Christofferson) say “not that” we’re affirming the agency of human kind as a prime qualifier.

    A second line of argument addresses the moral and even logical complexities of an atonement and forgiveness/absolution/restoration that is absolute, available to all for anything. For example, if you’ve committed adultery then confessed/repented/been forgiven, can you ‘honestly’ report that you have not committed adultery? (Think lie detector. Or political campaign.) Or how should we think about a person sinning with the knowledge and expectation of repenting tomorrow? (These are centuries old problems, not at all unique to Mormon discourse.) There is a temptation to rationalize the repentance process as a punishing reason not to sin–in Mormon speak “don’t do it or you’ll have to talk to the bishop!”

    My own view is that the atonement is for anyone all the time in every circumstance. That the logic puzzles are just that, puzzles that illustrate the miracle. And that repentance (including talking to the bishop if you think that’s necessary) is not a reason not to sin. It is not a cost. Forgiveness is a free gift. If you want to preach about sin–as in “don’t”–find other reasons. There’s plenty to talk about. The idea that God might not love you is not one of them.

  43. christiankimball, I think you’re right about both of the debates you mention. May I point out that in both of these controversies, God’s love is conflated with something else. In the first argument, it’s confused with salvation. In the second argument, it’s confused with forgiveness and atonement. It’s good to talk about how salvation and forgiveness are related to God’s love, but I find it curious and frustrating that these discussions tend to equate God’s love with salvation or forgiveness. In effect, that collapses the unique qualities of love out of the conversation. When we say that we’re talking about God’s love, we should be sure that’s really what we’re doing.

  44. This was a heartbreaking talk for many in the Church. To infer that God’s love is conditional negates the power of the Atonement and most Scriptures that refer to God’s love. Unless we teach correct principals regarding God’s love, sinner will not only be unmotivated to repent because they believe God does not love them or they will assume that they are not worthy of God’s love. And, are we not all sinners? This talk is guaranteed to drive a lot of people out of the Church. Is is one of the last straws for me.

  45. Clark Goble says:

    God loves us all much as we as a parent love our children regardless of what they do. The problem is that people then infer from God loving us that he’ll overwhelm our choices or save us in our sins rather than from our sins. I thought Elder Christofferson nailed this.

    This is a place where many (but not all) Protestants do differ from Mormons. Especially our Evangelical friends. I think Elder Christofferson pointed to where this difference arises. We have this notion of progressing grace from grace (and even make the claim, undoubtedly heretical to our Evangelical friends that Christ also progressed grace to grace). D&C 93 being the strongest example for this theology. Not just the opening Johnine like verses but also the more confusing parts in the middle on truth and light.

    It’s also worth noting that this is a topic of debate even in the Evangelical community in places. The way many interpret “unconditional love” is cheap grace which is a heresy. For one example of this debate see this Christianity Today article from a few years back.

    Ultimately as with so many disputes I think the real issue is semantics rather than content. People want us to talk about it in a particular way even if the difference over rhetoric isn’t matched in terms of content.

  46. This OP and comments motivated my searching further for Elder Nelson’s address in addition to his 2003 Ensign article and ultimately to a verse I had not recalled from my 2003 study. I found in the April 2013 Ensign an article taken from his 1998 speech at BYU in which he said:

    “[Jesus] loved the sinner without excusing the sin (see Matthew 9:2; D&C 24:2). And He taught us how we can show our love for Him. He said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Then, to underscore that His love was not unconditional, He added, “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love” (John 15:10; see also D&C 95:12; 124:87).”

    While what I call the Nelson reading of the cited verses is possible, it seems sufficiently inconsistent with other scripture that I am unpersuaded that it is either necessary or correct.

    The most difficult verse to understand otherwise than in the Nelson reading is D&C 95:12. But in the context of D&C 95:1 (“Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you whom I love, and whom I love I also chasten that their sins may be forgiven…”) it can hardly be read to mean that God’s love for his children is conditional on their not sinning. Verse 12 (“If you keep not my commandments, the love of the Father shall not continue with you, therefore you shall walk in darkness.”) uses a quintessentially ambiguous English structure: “the love of the Father” can refer either to the Father’s love for X or to X’s love for the Father. Reading it the latter way, this verse does not contradict D&C 95:1 but instead tells us that, at least in the context of the commandment to build the Kirtland temple, without keeping commandments (including, and perhaps primarily, the commandment to repent of the failure to consider that temple-building commandment (see v. 3)), the saints’ love for God would not continue sufficiently for them to be open to His guidance. There are, of course, ways to generalize this to other commandments and what is necessary to keep our love of God alive in our hearts.

    Is this interpretation of D&C 95:12 any more strained than the Nelson reading? Is it any more consistent with other scripture on God’s love?

  47. troubled, Seems to me that a reasonable reading of “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love” is that the love is always there, but in keeping his commandments we keep ourselves abiding (living) there, instead of distancing ourselves from what is always there and “walking in darkness.” That would seem to be consistent with Elder Nelson’s reading. Even though God’s love is always there for us, he will not violate our agency and keep us from walking away from it if we choose to.

  48. Adam Ellsworth says:

    After re-listening to Elder Christofferson’s talk and reading Elder Nelson’s controversial teachings on the topic of “unconditional love,” I agree with the sentiment above that I think Elder Christofferson is trying to correct Elder Nelson’s either inartfully expressed, or incorrect (to be less charitable), teachings about God’s unconditional love, without coming out and saying Elder Nelson was wrong. Elder Christofferson clearly believes that God’s love is unconditional, but that some people incorrectly believe that unconditional love means acceptance of wrong or sinful behavior. As a lawyer, this looks familiar to what the Supreme Court does when it wants to uphold its own precedent while simultaneously disagreeing with it. Just ignore prior cases and decide the opposite and let all the lower courts figure it out. Here, we as members just have to figure out the truth amid the apparent contradictions.

  49. Aaron Brown says:

    Thanks for the shout-out, Mephibosheth.

    One additional observation I’d add to my comments from Julie’s old thread…. Here’s a quotation from David Bokovoy’s vol. 1 OT volume from Kofford, in a chapter that has nothing to do with this topic (and yet I’m going to argue the quote does):

    “In recent decades, scholars have shown that in the biblical world the word “love” often represented a covenantal devotion to one’s superior, while its opposite, “hate,” at times signified the status of an individual outside of this affiliation.55 While the connotation of these words for Westerners usually signifies an intense emotional charge, in the ancient Near East, love and hate often carried the aforementioned unique covenantal connotation.56 Hence, Israel’s command to “love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might,” presented in the Book of Deuteronomy, seems to refer to a political commitment rather than an emotional attachment (Deut. 6:5).”

    I argued previously that Elder Nelson was perhaps naive to imagine that pre-Christian texts about “love” from thousands of years ago necessarily must comport with our modern Christian views. But another way of looking at this (a better way?) would be to say that Elder Nelson was (inadvertently?) tapping into an older scriptural idea of loyalty or approval or whatnot — perhaps not the exact notion referred to by Bokovoy here, but perhaps something similar — that what we now read as “love” in old scriptural texts was actually referring to.

    If so, this doesn’t render Nelson’s article unproblematic; it is VERY problematic. But it at least kinda sorta almost his comments a bit of a respectable pedigree?

    As others have said in this thread, the problem with Elder Nelson’s talk is largely semantic, not substantive. Except it’s become a substantive theological and pastoral problem because people have no idea Nelson is playing with an idiosyncratic implicit definition of “love”. He doesn’t tell them he’s doing this, and doesn’t seem to recognize it himself.

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