On Atonement and Perfect, Unconditional Love


     Here are what I believe to be four of the most ignored (or least applied/understood) scripture verses in the Bible.  Wouldn’t any understanding of God that portrays God differently, even if it’s from the Bible, do so in contradiction to these verses? *


1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (NLT)

     4 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.


1 John 4:16 (NLT)

     16 We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love.

     God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.


Matthew 5:43-48 (NLT)

Teaching about Love for Enemies

     43 “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. 44 But I say, love your enemies!

     Bless those who curse you. Do good to those who hate you. Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. 46 If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. 47 If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. 48 But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.


1 John 4:18 (NLT)

     18 Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.


     The Bible has many different portrayals of God.  Some verses portray God’s love as perfect and unconditional, as these verses do, and in others, God’s love is conditional.  The basic rules of logic and reason dictate that two contradictory statements can’t both be true, so which is it?  Is God’s love perfect and unconditional, or is it conditional?

     I have heard some argue that God is too “pure” to be in the presence of “sinners”—hence, the necessity of Jesus’ atonement.  (Atonement refers to the forgiving or pardoning of sin in general and original sin in particular through the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus, enabling the reconciliation between God and his creation. [1])  To say that God is so pure as to be unable to be in the presence of sin gives too much power to sin and not enough power to God.  God’s love is the greatest force in existence!  Being in the presence of sinners can’t possibly harm or change God, for God is love. God is love regardless of anything we do, because it is God’s very nature to “send sunlight and rain to the evil and the good, the just and unjust alike.”  Not only that, but Jesus spent the majority of his time in close contact with the “unclean” and “sinners.”  Did that make Jesus unclean?  Was Jesus less pure by being in contact with them?  I think the obvious answer is, “No.”

     As it says in the verses above, God is love, and God is perfect; therefore, God’s love is perfect.  Any idea of perfect love would have to include the idea that God’s love is unconditional, for if it was conditional, then it wouldn’t be perfect.  Also, if God’s love is perfect, God’s love would also posses all of the qualities (attributes) that we consider to be a part of love; hence, God has perfect and unconditional patience, perfect and unconditional understanding, perfect and unconditional mercy, perfect and unconditional grace, perfect and unconditional forgiveness, etc…

     In regards to whether God’s love can be both conditional and unconditional: Can a circle be both a circle and a square?  A circle—by definition—is round.  A perfect circle—by definition—is perfectly round.  If there is any imperfection in the roundness and shape of a perfect circle, then it could no longer be considered perfect.  In the same way, conditional and unconditional—by definition—are contradictory terms, so logically speaking, they can’t both be part of God’s nature.  Love is love; if it isn’t love, then it’s something else.  Perfect love is perfect; if it isn’t perfect, then it must be called by another name (conditional) and understood in another way.

     Look at it this way: if God is love, then there can never be a time when God isn’t love, correct?  If God is perfect, then there can never be a time when God isn’t perfect.  So I’m perplexed as to how anyone could reconcile the two (conditional/unconditional) and still consider God’s love to be perfect. Any explanation would simply defy the logical premises on which the ideas of perfect, conditional, and unconditional are built; there really is no other possible outcome or explanation.

     It is for this reason (one reason among many, actually) that I dismiss any understanding of God that portrays God’s love as conditional (which obviously includes the atonement).

     Human beings often forgive people without any need for payment or recompense.  If humans, who are imperfect, can do that, shouldn’t God, who is perfect, be able to forgive without any kind of payment?  Anyways, isn’t that the very definition of forgiveness, that a debt or wrong is forgiven or forgotten, without payment?

     What we are discussing here is the most fundamental question there is about God: What is God’s nature? Or in other words, What is the essence or character of God? As you can see, I believe that God is Love, and God’s Love is perfect and unconditional.

     Really think about this: if we are forgiven by God only AFTER Jesus’ “atoning sacrifice on the cross,” that is a textbook example of conditional love; our forgiveness is conditional on the death of Jesus.  That contradicts the message of love and grace Jesus taught us about God, and contradicts how Jesus told us to love and forgive our fellow man (and the example he set for us).

     Isn’t forgiveness universally considered an attribute of love? And if forgiveness is an attribute of love, and God is Love, then forgiveness is also an attribute of God. Taken one step further, if God is Love, and God is perfect, and forgiveness is an attribute of love, then an attribute of God’s perfect and unconditional love would be God’s perfect and unconditional forgiveness.

     In my view, sin (which I simply define as separation) isn’t taken away by someone dying (Jesus); unity happens through love, by intentionally aligning our will with God’s will for love and unity.

     God is already love; the goal is for us to also become love, to the best of our ability, and seek unity through love as the ultimate fulfillment of God’s will.

     We are united with God when we love as God loves, when we live as God lives.  That’s why Jesus told us to “love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.”  We are to “be perfect, as our Father in heaven is perfect” (to the best of our ability, anyways).  “Those who live in love, live in God, and God in them.”  This is the gospel, the “Good News” that Jesus taught us; that God is love, that God’s love is unconditional, that God wants unity with us, and for us all to have unity with God and each other through God’s example of perfect love and unity.

     To be clear, I’m not saying that Jesus’ death was meaningless; on the contrary, Jesus knew that he would be killed for teaching what he taught about God because it undermined the authority of the powers structures of his day, but he taught us anyways. So he did sacrifice himself; I just believe that his life and teachings and the new way he taught us to think about God’s nature and character was more important than his death.

     When we have God’s Love and grace in us, and share that love and grace with everyone else, that is when we are unified with God, that separation is taken away.

     In conclusion, if people’s most basic understanding of God’s nature is of a God whose love is conditional (atonement), what follows will automatically be colored by that brush.  Similar to trying to solve a complex math problem and making a mistake in step one of the solution, all steps thereafter will be affected by that error.  Therefore, we must be willing to refine our understanding(s) of the nature of God, and discard any understanding that doesn’t pass the filters of God’s perfect, unconditional love and unity.  For if we continue to hold on to and practice certain ideas that—by their very definition—limit God’s love, the world will continue to allow separation and exclusion in the name of God, as if it is part of God’s nature and will, and we will continue to work against the Kingdom of God on earth and within ourselves.


“Unconditional love is not based on the performance of the receiver, but on the character of the giver.” [2]

-Jack Frost


* These are verses that have helped to shape my understanding of God. To be clear, I’m not appealing to the Bible as the only source for our understanding of God.  I demonstrate more than once in my writings that we should use as many sources as are available when trying to distinguish the truth (or potential truth) of a subject.  The theory of atonement, especially as held by Christian theology, is the subject of this essay; hence the use of Christian scriptures.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atonement_in_Christianity
[2] https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/47287864817289719/