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The phrase “unconditional love” has become so common in our vocabulary and even in gospel discussions that many are shocked to discover the concept comes from social psychology and is foreign and devoid of scriptural support.

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L. Hannah Stoddard and James F. Stoddard III

President Russell M. Nelson confronted this nearly universal “gospel rumor” in an Ensign article entitled, “Divine Love.”

While divine love can be called perfect, infinite, enduring, and universal, it cannot correctly be characterized as unconditional. The word does not appear in the scriptures. On the other hand, many verses affirm that the higher levels of love the Father and the Son feel for each of us—and certain divine blessings stemming from that love—are conditional. 1

President Nelson’s treatise has been a helpful resource for those endeavoring to understand God’s love from a scriptural perspective. “Divine Love” has been referenced numerous times in General Conference by other general authorities. (See Elder D. Todd Christofferson, “Abide in My Love”, Oct 2016; Elder Dallin H. Oaks, “Love and Law”, Oct 2009; Linda S. Reeves, “Claim the Blessings of Your Covenants”, Oct 2013; Elder Dale G. Renlund, “Repentance: A Joyful Choice”, Nov 2016)

Is God’s love unconditional?

President Brigham Young taught that love should be merited. President Joseph F. Smith also clarified that God’s love is not unconditional.

This is how I look at the requirements which God has made upon his people collectively and individually, and I do believe that I have no claim upon God or upon my brethren for blessing, favor, confidence or love, unless, by my works, I prove that I am worthy thereof, and I never expect to receive blessings that I do not merit. 2

Is “unconditional love” scriptural?

President Nelson and other inspired leaders have approached this question with an appeal to scripture.

. . . we note many verses that declare the conditional nature of divine love for us.

Examples include:

If ye keep my commandments, [then] ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.” (John 15:10; emphasis added.)

If you keep not my commandments, [then] the love of the Father shall not continue with you.” (D&C 95:12; emphasis added.)

If a man love me, [then] he will keep my words: and my Father will love him.” (John 14:23; emphasis added.)

“I love them that love me; and those that seek me … shall find me.” (Prov. 8:17.)

“God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.” (Acts 10:34–35.)

The Lord “loveth those who will have him to be their God.” (1 Ne. 17:40.)

“He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.” (John 14:21.) 3

While there is no support for unconditional love in the scriptures, the conditional love of the Father and the Son is taught repeatedly and plainly.

In discussing the true nature of God’s love, we believe that God does love us far more than we can comprehend. His love is perfect, long-suffering, kind and enduring. However, since His love is conditional, it follows that He loves us according to the degree that we follow His will. For example, He does not love us to the same degree that He loves His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Note the way the Father introduces His Son: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (JST, Matthew 3:46, Matthew 17:5, JS-History 1:17, 2 Peter 1:17,  see also D&C 93:15Mark 9:7, Luke 9:35)

When the Father speaks of any other person, even His chosen prophets and servants, He refers to them differently.

Note how Joseph Smith described God’s love.

“Our heavenly Father is more liberal in His views, and boundless in His mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive; and, at the same time, is more terrible to the workers of iniquity, more awful in the executions of His punishments, and more ready to detect every false way, than we are apt to suppose Him to be.” (Letter from Joseph Smith to Nancy Rigdon)

Origins

Erich Fromm, Source: Arturo Espinosa
If the concept of “unconditional love” cannot be found in the scriptures, how has this nearly universal false tradition become so popular in the past few decades?

Pulling away the curtain, the origins of “unconditional love” reveal a murky history. Erich Fromm, a German social psychologist, has been credited with coining this popular term. In The Art of Loving, Fromm criticized merited love.

Unconditional love corresponds to one of the deepest longings, not only of the child, but of every human being; on the other hand, to be loved because of one’s merit, because one deserved it, always leaves doubt; maybe I did not please the person whom I want to love me, maybe this, or that–there is always a fear that love could disappear. Furthermore, “deserved” love easily leaves a bitter feeling that one is not loved for oneself, that one is loved only because one pleases, that one is, in the last analysis, not loved at all but used. 4

Fromm’s Ties to Marxism

Who was Erich Fromm? Fromm was an influential thinker during the 1900s. Interestingly, Fromm embraced Socialism and Marxism and has even been considered one of the founders of Socialist Humanism.

. . . Fromm joined the American Socialist party and penned their party platform for that election year [1960]. During the 1960s Fromm traveled in Eastern Europe and developed close ties with Yugoslav, Czech, and Polish Marxists, who evinced a keen appreciation of Fromm’s brand of Marxist humanism. 5

He became one of the founders of the Socialist Humanism, promoting the early Marx’s writings and his humanist messages to the United States and Western European publics. Thus, in the early 1960s, Fromm has published two books dealing with Marx’s thought (Marx’s Concept of Man and Beyond the Chains of Illusion: My Encounter with Marx and Freud). Working to stimulate the Western and Eastern cooperation between Marxist Humanists, Fromm published a collection of articles entitled Socialist Humanism: An International Symposium in 1965. 6

One year following Fromm’s publication on Socialist Humanism, President David O. McKay presented the position of the Church on Socialism and Communism during the general priesthood session of the 136th Annual Conference of the Church:

The position of this Church on the subject of Communism has never changed. We consider it the greatest satanical threat to peace, prosperity, and the spread of God’s work among men that exists on the face of the earth. . . .

The Russian Commissar of Education wrote: “We must hate Christians and Christianity. Even the best of them must be considered our worst enemies. Christian love is an obstacle to the development of the revolution.” 7

Note that the First Presidency statement specifically stresses the opposition and contradiction between Christian love and Socialist love.

Fromm was dedicated to undermining Christianity, the family & Western civilization.

Fromm was involved in the Frankfurt School, an organization of progressive intellectuals. These men were dedicated to undermining Christianity, the family and Western civilization. Many agendas can be traced to the Frankfurt School and the radical men who were determined to turn the world upside down. These schemes included:

  • the institution of state sex-education,
  • the disintegration of traditional marriage,
  • the spread of propaganda through media and education,
  • the increasing demoralization and illiteracy of America
  • and the goal to create complete dependency on the state.

Erich Fromm was a member of this world-transforming social movement.

Horkheimer and Adorno, influential leaders of the Frankfurt School.

Fromm targets Patriarchal Fatherhood

Fromm’s distaste for “conditional love”, as he called it, led him to attack the patriarchal father. He wrote:

Fatherly love is conditional love. Its principle is ‘I love you because you fulfill my expectations, because you do your duty, because you are like me.’ In conditional fatherly love we find . . a negative and a positive aspect. The negative aspect is the very fact that fatherly love has to be deserved, that it can be lost if one does not do what is expected. In the nature of fatherly love lies the fact that obedience becomes the main virtue, that disobedience is the main sin–and its punishment the withdrawal of fatherly love. The positive side is equally important. Since his love is conditioned, I can do something to acquire it, I can work for it; his love is not outside my control as motherly love is. 8

Erich Fromm’s disgust for a father’s “conditional love” was only a part of his overall hatred for the patriarchal family. Fromm saw the culture built on Judeo-Christian principles as oppressive and destructive. Geoff Botkin elaborates on the Frankfurt School and Erich Fromm’s mission to destroy the Christian family in a talk titled, Hollywood’s Most Despised Villain. Listen to the following excerpt:

Geoff Botkin and The Western Conservatory of the Arts and Sciences has produced many scriptural based resources to inspire, educate and encourage families. They have produced many valuable DVDs, audio talks, books and other resources on home education, patriarchal fatherhood, providential history, awakening young men and women, true masculinity, scriptural femininity, and more!

Receive your own copy of Hollywood’s Most Despised Villiain.

 

Fromm equated patriarchal fatherhood as “fascist[ic]”, tyrannical and callous towards humanity.

The purely patriarchal society cares nothing for love and equality; it is only concerned with man-made laws, the state, abstract principles, obedience. It is beautifully described in Sophocles’ Antigone in the person and system of Creon, the prototype of a fascist leader. 9

In the spirit of a worldview shaped by Darwinian Evolution, he described man “as the animal that can say I, that can be aware of himself as a separate entity.”

Man is the only animal for whom his own existence is a problem which he has to solve, and from which he cannot escape. He cannot go back to the prehuman state of harmony with nature; he must proceed to develop his reason until he becomes the master of nature, and of himself. 10

Erich Fromm diametrically opposed the principles of revealed Christianity.

One of the foundation stones of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith, is the patriarchal family. Erich Fromm and other influential social reformers diametrically opposed the principles of revealed Christianity.

The ancient prophet Alma warned, “trust no one to be your teacher nor your minister, except he be a man of God, walking in his ways and keeping his commandments.” (Mosiah 23:14)

Have we followed Alma’s counsel or have we followed Erich Fromm’s doctrine?

Should we teach Erich Fromm’s new social gospel?

Unconditional love = “anti-Christ” deception

President Nelson stressed the importance of understanding that God’s love is not unconditional. He warned that this teaching is used by “anti-Christs to woo people with deception”.

Understanding that divine love and blessings are not truly “unconditional” can defend us against common fallacies such as these: “Since God’s love is unconditional, He will love me regardless …”; or “Since ‘God is love,’ (1 John 4:8, 16.) He will love me unconditionally, regardless …”

These arguments are used by anti-Christs to woo people with deception. Nehor, for example, promoted himself by teaching falsehoods: He “testified unto the people that all mankind should be saved at the last day, … for the Lord had created all men, … and, in the end, all men should have eternal life.” (Alma 1:4) Sadly, some of the people believed Nehor’s fallacious and unconditional concepts.

In contrast to Nehor’s teachings, divine love warns us that “wickedness never was happiness.” (Alma 41:10) Jesus explains, “Come unto me and be ye saved; … except ye shall keep my commandments, … ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (3 Nephi 12:20) 11

President Nelson’s statement is fully vindicated when one studies the history of “unconditional love” and its roots in our modern socially engineered culture.

On the other hand, inspired leaders have counseled us regarding the true nature of God’s love. President Nelson closed his talk with the following exhortation:

The more committed we become to patterning our lives after His, the purer and more divine our love becomes. . . . Divine love is perfect, infinite, enduring, and universal. The full flower of divine love and our greatest blessings from that love are conditional—predicated upon our obedience to eternal law. I pray that we may qualify for those blessings and rejoice forever. 12

Read more statements on God’s divine love!

Notes:

  1. Nelson, Russell M. “Divine Love”. Ensign, February 2003, 24; Liahona, February 2003, 16.
  2. Smith, Joseph F. Deseret News, November 12, 1873, 644.
  3. Nelson, Russell M. “Divine Love”. Ensign, February 2003, 24; Liahona, February 2003, 16.
  4. Fromm, Erich. The Art of Loving. Harper & Brothers, 1956. 35
  5. Burston, Daniel. The Legacy of Erich Fromm. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1991. 27.
  6. “Erich Fromm.” New World Encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 April 2017.
  7. “President David O. McKay, Statement on Position of the Church on Communism, 1966.” Joseph Smith Foundation. N.p., 28 Feb. 2016. Web. 04 May 2017. <http://www.josephsmithfoundation.org/docs/president-david-o-mckay-statement-on-position-of-the-church-on-communism-1966/>.
  8. Fromm, Erich. The Art of Loving. Harper & Brothers, 1956. 36
  9. Fromm, Erich. The Crisis of Psychoanalysis. 1970. 106
  10. Fromm, Erich. Psychoanalysis and Religion. New Haven, CT: Yale UP., 23.
  11. Nelson, Russell M. “Divine Love”. Ensign, February 2003, 24; Liahona, February 2003, 16.
  12. Ibid.

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6 Comments on "Is “unconditional love” a scriptural doctrine?"

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Julie
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Ezra Taft Benson taught, “It is important that in our teaching we make use of the language of holy scriptures. Today, we hear so many random phrases such as “positive thinking”, “personal relationship with Jesus Christ”, “self-esteem”, “positive affirmations” and “unconditional love”. But these phrases we have coined, where are any them used in the scriptures? When we vary from using the language of God’s word, the philosophies of men are introduced and even the elect are deceived. Alma said, “I … do command you in the language of him who hath commanded me”. The WORDS and the WAY they… Read more »
Brooke Granadino
Guest
It never ceases to amaze me how my role as a parent perfectly mirrors the way God parents me. Always, by learning His laws and His ways…I am guided in how to establish my laws and my ways in our home and family. The idea of “unconditional love” has seeped into the family culture of our society and it has wreaked havoc. Satan’s deceptions are so often painted to look even better than their true counterparts. This is where President Monson’s recent plea with us to choose the harder right rather than the easier wrong, becomes so vital. It is… Read more »
Elsie
Guest

Wow! Great article. It’s interesting to note that each one of President Benson’s 5 Anti-Christs were involved or influenced in one way or another in the Frankfurt school. Much (if not most) of our society is deeply rooted and deliberately influenced by the school and it’s philosophies. I love how this articles exposes the lies and deceitful doctrines that are the “norm” all around us now. We have to know the truth in order to guard ourselves and our families against the falsehoods that we are constantly bombarded with from the world.

Diane
Guest
Elder Christofferson addressed this topic in the Oct 2016 General Conference. “There are many ways to describe and speak of divine love. One of the terms we hear often today is that God’s love is “unconditional.” While in one sense that is true, the descriptor unconditional appears nowhere in scripture. Rather, His love is described in scripture as “great and wonderful love,”3 “perfect love,”4 “redeeming love,”5 and “everlasting love.”6 These are better terms because the word unconditional can convey mistaken impressions about divine love, such as, God tolerates and excuses anything we do because His love is unconditional, or God… Read more »
Caleb Young
Guest
Great article! Many of those who buy into or perpetuate the idea of ‘unconditional’ love are those who deny the reality or seriousness of sin. They use the idea to excuse their tolerance of serious sins in themselves or others. As Dallin H. Oaks said: “Some seem to value God’s love because of their hope that His love is so great and so unconditional that it will mercifully excuse them from obeying His laws. In contrast, those who understand God’s plan for His children know that God’s laws are invariable, which is another great evidence of His love for His… Read more »
Threesa
Guest

Thank you for this well written and thoughtful piece on God’s love. It never fails to amaze me that we cannot clearly see these deceptions.

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