Love without condition...
I wonder if anyone has ever known truly unconditional love on a purely human level. I rather doubt it because humans are flawed beings, and we put conditions on other people all the time. Parents and grandparents may tell a child, "I will love you if you are good," or perhaps "I won't love you if you don't do this" as a way to get them to behave the way they want them to. (Of course, we are often way more subtle that this, but the message is still conveyed the same.) A teacher may praise or withhold praise, also to control behavior. Men may withhold love from their wives if they do not get the respect they desire, and women may withhold love from husbands if their man doesn't cherish them the way they want to be cherished. In truth, we have no trouble loving ourselves - it's our neighbor who can be so hard to love. Love is too often "me" centered - as in "how does this person make me feel?" I love the line in the movie Pride & Prejudice where Mr. Collins is trying to propose to Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) and he tells her that one of the reasons he wants to marry her is because he is sure it will "add greatly to his happiness." Never mind what it will do to hers!
But I wonder, since we grow up with such flawed views of love - and even the most loving parents aren't always unconditional in their loving - how hard is it for us to grasp a God who loves us exactly that way?
Romans 5:6-8 says, "For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
Do you see the example of both conditional and unconditional love in these verses? The apostle Paul is saying that sometimes, in the right conditions, if there was someone who was good or righteous enough, or loved enough, someone might dare to die for them. I can see a parent easily giving his life for a beloved child, and there are many noble examples in history of people sacrificing their lives to save someone else. So in certain conditions, people do practice a kind of love that appears unconditional--but we do it conditionally based on the value or virtue of the object of our love. (I hope I'm making sense!)
God, on the other hand, demonstrated His love by dying for people who didn't deserve it, who were not good and righteous, who did not and could not do anything to make the conditions right in order to gain His love. He chose to love us anyway. Without condition.
The Amplified Bible says it well:
"We were then by nature children of [God's] wrath and heirs of [His] indignation, like the rest of mankind. But God--so rich is He in His mercy! Because of and in order to satisfy the great and wonderful and intense love with which He loved us, Even when we were dead (slain) by [our own] shortcomings and trespasses, He made us alive together in fellowship and in union with Christ; [He gave us the very life of Christ Himself, the same new life with which He quickened Him, for] it is by grace (His favor and mercy which you did not deserve) that you are saved (delivered from judgment and made partakers of Christ's salvation)." Ephesians 2:3b-5
Conditions of God's justice (laid out in the Old Testament Law) remain as they always were, and they are impossible to meet. But Christ met them for us. The only condition left to us to fully embrace such unyielding, amazing love is to accept what Jesus did on our behalf, to trust Him with our very selves and to live the life of love He has for us. A love that is given freely, without merit, without condition.