Sherry Antonetti is a freelance writer, blogger and published author of The Book of Helen. She lives just outside of Washington, DC with her husband and their ten children.
Online, a friend on Facebook asked the question, “What does it mean to love others unconditionally?” How could one love someone who held views antithetical to one’s own? How could one respond lovingly to someone who was cruel, wrong, vicious and evil?
We live in an age that seeks validation in all things. We want to be justified, even honored for our correct opinions and responses to an unpredictable world. The reality of living the Christian life is seeking not to be justified or honored, but seeking to love and to serve. What we don’t know in this modern age is how to go about doing that when confronted with unpleasantness.
Unconditional love doesn’t mean being a doormat or allowing evil to persist. Unconditional love means treating whosoever we encounter with the dignity we’d want for ourselves even at our worst. We are to treat even our enemies with charity. It doesn’t mean we don’t confront or address wrongs. Indeed, failing to speak out, when something cries out to heaven, is a sin against charity. The person being wronged needs our witness and support, and the person doing the wrong needs the fraternal correction as well. We must respond in love both to the victim and the one doing the injury if we are to be fully just and merciful to both.
Jesus called the Pharisees hard names on occasion, but he also told them how they could escape such a label: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You lock the kingdom of heaven before human beings. You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter.”
He also offers forgiveness before it has been sought: “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.” Even after all that led up to the Crucifixion, his heart still ached for all of us.
God offers us the gifts first. It is up to each of us to receive and use them. There is nothing more potent in this world than the offering of mercy to someone who did not know they sought it. It is the gift to another of God’s love. It helps pierce the veil so that those affected may see God more clearly.
Loving others unconditionally is to love as Christ loves on the cross — despite injury, despite injustice, despite ignorance, despite cowardice, despite sin. Yes, people are tough, cruel, thoughtless, frustrating, rude and wrong. They do wicked, hard, nasty, unpleasant and evil things. They wound with words and silence, they wound with what they do and what they do not do. But as we all know, it’s easy to return hate with hate, ugliness with still more ugliness.
It’s an act of grace to do otherwise, to offer a way back home. It's a mark of true holiness when we can see someone engaged in sin and still see them first, last and always, as a brother or sister in Christ. May we all see more clearly.