Friday, January 15, 2016

Proof of God's Unconditional Love

God's love will last as long as He does.
Yesterday, I talked about hope and God's unconditional love. Today, I'm going to discuss how it is that we can be sure that God loves us unconditionally. What evidence is there to support that claim?

Love Is God's Nature

God is love. It’s not just something He does, it’s who He is. God does not have an end nor a beginning, and therefore God will always love. He created us, and His love for us will last as long as He does, not as long as we do.

Think of it in human terms: If you have lost a family member to death, does your love for them stop? No, it continues on because your memories of them and your feelings toward them continue. Love can continue past the person’s death.

In similar terms, if you’ve ever been a parent, you know that your love for your child does not end no matter how angry they may become with you, or how stubborn that child may be. You may need to practice tough love at times and allow them to experience the consequences of their choices, but your love for them doesn’t end.

God is not like men, in that he does not cut people out of His life or stop loving them no matter what choices they’ve made. He’s always ready, eager, to take them back should they turn toward Him again.

Seven Ways of Knowing God’s Unconditional Love

God has given men seven ways of knowing His unconditional love: parental love, marital love, the Catholic Church, Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, science, and history. Through these seven things we can know the truth about God and therefore come to know His unconditional love for us.

Parental Love

Our parents are meant to be our first taste of the unconditional love that God has for us as we experience their unconditional love for us and for each other. That experience of being loved unconditionally simply because we are and not because of any special trait we may possess or behavior we may exhibit is a foreshadowing of what God's love is like. We aren't loved because of what we do, but simply because we exist, and we can know by observing our parents love for one another that their love is what brought us into being.

Although it is how it is designed to be, for many people this is not a reality. The mother and father do not love each other, sometimes they barely know each other, and the parents may be too broken to give that unconditional love to the child. This makes it harder for the child to believe in God's unconditional love for them, which makes it more difficult for a child to hold on to hope.

Marital Love

If parental love is the first taste of God's unconditional love for us, marital love is meant to be a more fully realized experience of it. It is the experience of a love that says, "I choose you above all others, and I choose to stay with you no matter what comes."

It is in the marriage bed that couples experience a foreshadowing of God's desire and passion for them in the desire and passion of their spouse. Here, they are able to be naked emotionally as well as physically; to be seen with bad hair and bad breath, scars and stretch marks, moles and warts and all and still be found beautiful, worthy, and wanted. It is a truly beautiful gift to receive, and to give.

The marital couple loves one another so deeply and strongly that they literally love into being another human being. They become a living sign of God's unconditional love to their own children and to the people around them. Those who weather the trials of life and the failures of one another without losing hope become a sign of hope to others, a reminder that unconditional love is real and it does exist. 

The marital covenant is unique from all other loves because it is exclusive to one man and one woman. It is a choice made on the part of both individuals to cast aside all others in order to focus on loving one another. I wrote a considerable amount about this topic on a blog post entitled In Defense of Monogamy, so I won’t continue on although I could.

The Catholic Church

When I came back to the Catholic Church after more than a decade of wandering from her, I had an instant moment where I clearly saw how much I owed the Church, and I bowed down and wept with gratitude for every saint who had been willing to sacrifice their lives so that the Catholic Church would still be there when I was ready to rejoin her.

The Catholic Church is a way of knowing about God's unconditional love because she stands as the bride of Jesus Christ, and she continues His work on Earth. She is pure and holy, not because the men and women who belong to her are pure and holy, but because she is faithful to Christ’s command to tend His sheep no matter how ungrateful the sheep are for being tended. And believe me, a lot of us are pretty ungrateful. 

She loves us unconditionally, continuing to offer her service to us in spite of our rejection, in spite of having others spit on her and put her down, in spite of those who mock her and demean her. She gives her life in service to all, whether they appreciate that service or not.

Sacred Scripture

It is through the Catholic Church that Sacred Scripture is preserved and passed down, and Sacred Scripture is the fourth way of knowing God’s unconditional love for us. In Sacred Scripture, God has revealed Himself and His teaching, given man the path to find and to hold on to love, and demonstrated His love for even the most wretched of sinner. It is in Sacred Scripture that the proof that Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah is found.

The Nation of Israel did begin the tradition of preserving and passing down Sacred Scripture, but their work stopped by the time of Jesus Christ. Their work might have been lost altogether if not for the care which the Catholic Church took to preserve it.

Furthermore, it was the Catholic Church that gathered and sorted through the writings from the time of Jesus’s death until the time of the last of the Apostles died to compile what would become the New Testament. The Bible as Christians know it today was compiled by the Catholic Church.

Sacred Tradition

It is also through the Catholic Church that Sacred Tradition is preserved and passed down. Sacred Tradition maintains the teachings of Jesus Christ that were not written down.

Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. – John 21:25
Sacred Tradition shows to men how to correctly interpret, understand, and apply what is found in Sacred Scripture, since scripture tells us that

“no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation” – 2 Peter 1:20
This is because, as St. Peter goes on to explain, Scripture contains
“certain things hard to understand, which the unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other Scriptures, to their own destruction” 2 Peter 3:16
The incorrect interpretation of Scripture can lead you to false hope, and to discouragement, bitterness, and anger toward God. It can destroy a man’s faith and lead Him away from what is good and right and true. Therefore, God placed a gatekeeper in the form of the Catholic Church in order that men might not stray but might be assured they could find the way. He promised that nothing would ever take the Church away from us.
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. – Matthew 16:18
It is also how God helps believers to understand how Scripture applies to the world in which they currently live. When Scripture was put into place, things like in vitro fertilization had not yet come into being. Sacred Tradition helps believers understand how to view modern changes in light of Scripture’s teachings so that they can be sure they are doing what is pleasing to God.

Science

Science is how we might test all things in order to know the truth of them. That science exists, that we are capable of testing for and finding the truth, is a kind of proof of God’s unconditional love. It allows us to put to rest our doubts, and to give our trust to the truth of a matter. It also allows us to avoid what is harmful to us, and avoid doing harm to others.

History

As I stated in an earlier chapter, one of the ways to test any truth is through observation. The study of history allows us to observe the behavior of man throughout the world and in different ages, to learn from their mistakes, and to capitalize on the collective wisdom. God’s unconditional love for mankind can be found in the pages of history.

Hell and Proof of God's Unconditional Love

God doesn’t stop loving those who chose to go to Hell. They simply cannot experience that love because He has done as they asked Him to do – He has removed the light of His presence from them. He still loves them, cares for them, and sustains them.

Imagine, for a moment, that Hell is a dark room in a well-lit home. God brings a man to that home where there is a party going on inside. He invites the man to be part of the party, but the man chooses to reject that invitation and enter the darkened room instead. He rejects the light either because of lust, anger, envy, pride, greed, avarice, or sloth.

For a time, the man experiences a weak bit of light that comes through the hallway. Then, he asks that God shut the door for him, and so God does. Now that man is in total darkness even though light surrounds him. He can’t see the light, experience its benefits, or enjoy the party – and he clearly doesn’t want to. That’s what Hell is like.

The people in Hell can’t experience joy, but they don’t want to. They can’t experience happiness, but they don’t want to. They are exactly where they want to be. And that is why God does not just take them out of there. He respects their wishes and allows them the space they desired away from Him.

Hell Wasn’t Meant for Man

Hell wasn’t created for human beings. It was created for Lucifer and all those who followed him in warring against God. Lucifer wanted to rule Heaven in God’s place, but he couldn’t defeat God. God did the kindest thing He could do for Lucifer and his followers. He gave them a space all their own where Lucifer could rule to his heart’s content. Men weren’t designed for hell, and they weren’t meant to go there, but in choosing to turn away from love and instead choosing selfishness, they give God no choice but to put them in Lucifer’s domain.

People Choose Hell

This is the most important thing to remember: God does not choose for any man to go to Hell. Anyone who goes to Hell is there because they have chosen to be there. God does not feel sorrow for those souls in Hell because He knows they are where they want to be, and He loves them enough to accept their choice and respect their wishes.

If you find it hard to believe that anyone would knowingly choose hell, I present to you all the times people knowingly choose to do things which they know are not good for them. 

People who are alcoholics know they are hurting themselves and their family and friends with their decision to drink, but they choose to drink anyway. They know it’s going to kill them, but they choose the bottle anyway. People who are addicted to drugs choose the needle over family, friends, and self-respect. They are willing to sacrifice every good thing to feed their addiction. 

These people could change things at any time, but they choose not to do it.

People and Angels in Hell Can’t Repent

Nobody goes to Hell by accident and without full knowledge of what they are choosing to reject. Christ comes to each individual in turn and offers them a chance to change. Once they have been directly invited by Christ, and know the full extent of what they are rejecting, God withdraws from them completely because that is what they have asked Him to do.

It is only the presence of the Holy Spirit that equips men to be able to see clearly and repent of their sins. Once God removes His presence, the Holy Spirit is no longer there. They are literally incapable of repenting. God can’t come back into their hearts because they have told Him they don’t want Him there and it would be a violation of their gift of free will. It would be the equivalent of rape.

Sympathy for the devil is misplaced. He is where he asked to be, and He is receiving exactly what he asked to receive. The world he lives in is one of his own making and his own choice.

Purgatory and God’s Unconditional Love

Purgatory is God’s effort to save every soul, even the soul that isn’t yet perfected in love. Like Hell, nobody goes to purgatory by accident. They go there by choice.

Going back to my original analogy, imagine for a moment that a man is brought to a well-lit home. While he is there, he breaks a window. He repents of the damage he caused and apologizes to the owner. The owner accepts his apology and forgives him. However, the man will not feel comfortable being in the owner’s presence until he has done what is necessary to fix the window.

In order to fix that window, he must deny himself the benefit of enjoying the comfort and safety of the well-lit home for a time so that when he enters it again, he does so without the weight of guilt or shame or embarrassment it would cause if he knew that he hadn’t. 

The owner may know the man is poor and therefore take pity on him and pay the cost of the window, as Jesus Christ paid the price for our sins, but the man must still do work himself in order to make the repair complete. To allow the owner to take on the full burden of doing the repair work would be a mark of ingratitude on the part of the man and a sign that the man did not truly appreciate the gift of friendship he was being offered by the owner.

When we meet Christ at the instant of our death, we will know the mistakes we have made in life. We will see the thousand different ways that we have failed to love, and we will see the devastating impact of those failures in the lives of others. We will know just how many souls God was not able to save because of our decisions. We will truly know, and be able to repent for, those sins.

Purgatory is only offered to those who 1) sincerely repent of the damage they have caused and 2) have sought forgiveness for it. The ideal is to have sincerely repented, sought forgiveness, and done the work necessary to fix what you’ve broken here on earth. That’s the easy way.

But if you have repented of your sins and sought forgiveness, but died before you got a chance to either do the work or complete the work necessary to fix what you’ve broken, God offers you the opportunity to enter Purgatory so that you can finish paying the debts you owe before you enter Heaven.

The deal with Purgatory is that the people who enter there are eager to go. God shows them the good they’ll be able to do and the souls they will be able to help redeem through their willingness to suffer a little now so that greater good may be done later. These are souls that love God and they truly are sorry for having been the cause of any soul getting lost along the way.

For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble—each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. - I Corinthians 3:11-15 
We don’t know everything that happens in Purgatory, but we do know that it exists. It is incredibly intense suffering they are undergoing. And only we can help them get out of Purgatory by praying for their souls. They cannot pray for themselves while in Purgatory since part of their sin was that their works were done for their own gain rather than for the good of others.

Each time we pray for a soul in purgatory and encourage others to pray for that soul with us, we repair some of the damage done by the sins of that soul by growing in holiness and helping others to do likewise. This cultivating of holiness is how they get closer to paying off their debts.

Hope, Heaven, and God’s Unconditional Love

Heaven is that place where God’s unconditional love reigns supreme. It is where we will be able to experience it in its full glory. We will know and understand why we were made the way we were and any doubts about our ability to be loved or our worthiness to be loved will be removed. When we get to Heaven, we won’t need hope anymore. We will have achieved hope’s fulfillment.

The good news is that we don’t have to wait for Heaven to begin finding hope’s fulfillment today. The closer we get to God, the less Hell we’ll go through here on Earth because we’ll see God’s love written large in every moment of suffering and pain. I hope you’ll join me on the journey.

Tomorrow: Something Greater Than Today


In tomorrow’s chapter, I’ll talk about the way that hope points us toward greater things. I’ll discuss how we can be sure there is more than today’s suffering, and how we can be sure that suffering won’t last forever. I’ll talk about how we can be sure that God does want better things for us, and God’s vision of better versus man’s. I’ll also talk about why God doesn’t just give us the better things He wants us to have, and why He allows suffering to exist. 

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