115.1 The Trilateral Nature Of God's Love: So, we begin by understanding that God's love has a trilateral nature. God loves us with a love that is based in His nature. He loves us with a love that is based in His position. And, He loves us with a love that is based in His expectation of performance.
115.2 Conditional vs. Unconditional: To accurately understand God's love, one must understand all three facets of it. Always, it exists in these three ways - at the same time. And, because this is true, God's love is sometimes conditional and sometimes unconditional.
115.3 God's Love Based In His Nature: So, let's begin with the aspect of God's love that is based in His nature. This is the tender, unconditional love that we hear so much about; and, it fully fits the popular description. It is the love of John 3:16. It is a forgiving love, a securing love, a welcoming love, an unconditional love. It is the love of the open arms of God.
This is the kind of love that we were exposed to in our infancy and earliest childhood from our parents. It is this kind of love that we give our children in their infancy. But, this is not the love that entirely rears and matures our children, nor us as God's children. Another kind of love is required for that.
115.4 God's Love Based In His Position: God's raising and rearing kind of love for His children involves the love that is based in His position as the Governing Creator. To explain this aspect of God's love involves a simple statement. It is this: God always loves us in the context of His larger responsibility to His creation. In other words, God's love for us, individually, is always set in His larger awareness of His responsibility to the whole of His creation.
It is this aspect of God's love, the position based love, the love of the Governing Creator, that places Him on the throne of judgment. It is this position based love that causes Him to look beyond just the immediate needs of the individual child. To be always a God of love, He must attend to the higher and larger concerns of the whole of His creation.
It is this same kind of positional love that causes us, as parents with a larger responsibility, to say no to our children for their own good, to punish them for their wrong doing, or to refuse to give them a position above principle or what is right.
Good parents will always love their children on some level with that unconditional love that loves - no matter what. But, that is not the love that supersedes in the realm of our larger responsibility to them and to society. There, the rearing love of our parental position governs.
The same is true of God's love for mankind. On the most primary level, God loves us irrevocably as His dear children. It is a very basic and unconditional love that is ever there. But, though it is always there, it is ultimately subservient to God's positional love, which is based in the context of His larger responsibility to the whole of His creation.
And, this position based love of the Governing Creator is very much a conditional love. And, it does, indeed, govern. So, this is the love that we encounter as God rears His children and manages the affairs of His larger creation.
115.5 God's Love Based In Our Performance: Finally, let's consider the aspect of God's love that is based in performance. This is the love of John 14:21 and following where Jesus said this:
"He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.
"Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, 'Lord, how is it that You will manifest Yourself to us, and not to the world?'
"Jesus answered and said to him, 'If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; [the performance condition] and My Father will love him and We will come to him and make Our home with him [response based in performance]. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father's who sent Me.'" [Brackets added]
The love described here is a love that requires, even demands, something from us in the way of performance or reciprocation. This kind of love must be earned, even from God. It is not given except in response to merit. Thus, this type of God's love is also very much a conditional love.
The New Testament makes it clear that this expression of God's love will only be experienced by those who merit it. Consider, for example, in addition to the verses above, The Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25: 14 and following). Then simply continue reading in that same chapter of Matthew, the teachings of Jesus on how He will separate the "sheep" from the "goats" (Matthew 25: 31 and following). These references speak of an expression of love from God that is only given as a response to performance or merit.
115.6 Conclusions: So, God's love is unconditional; but, it is also very conditional in the ways that we have described. Like the sky, the sun and the clouds, the different types of God's love are always there together, and yet they are different to serve different needs.
To understand God's love only as unconditional will never really explain the real God with which we have to do. But, when we see His love in this three dimensional way, we can very accurately understand the God that is love and more accurately anticipate His actions and responses.