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God's Conditional Love – Br. Curtis Almquist

Back in my college years, I was a zealous member of an interdenominational Christian fellow­ship group. We were incredibly earnest young Christ­ians – even a little insuf­ferable sometimes I suspect – and, now and then, it probably wouldn’t have hurt for us to hear one of our men­tors say, “Okay, you guys: Lighten up! Relax a little. You don’t need to be so earnest….” But those were the days. One of the things we did clearly hear about was God’s love. In that group I was able to know for the very first time that God’s love for me is “uncondi­tional,” as it is for all of you. That God has this passionate love affair going on with you. God has created you as you are. God knows you, God cherishes you, God longs for your compan­ion­ship. In God’s scheme of things, God has plans for a relationship with you that lasts forever, a relation­ship which only grows in intimacy over time. It’s like an eternal infatuation. You’re always on God’s mind: when you’re sleeping, God is dreaming up ways to be with you. When you’re working or walking or weeping, God is catching up with you in the wind across your face, in the song of a bird, in the free-fall of laughter, in the soothing touch of a friend. God’s wooing you, God’s wanting you, God’s loving you, whis­pering love ballads into your ear, something like, “Come to me….” You are the apple of God’s eye. Whoever you are, really; what you are, where you are, however it is that you’ve become the way you are… God knows you and God desires you and God loves you. God can’t get enough of you. You make God’s day! I would say that’s true, and true for all of us here. God does love you, and God’s love for you knows no end.

It’s just that I probably wouldn’t call this “uncondi­tional love” any more. These days, I think I would rather call it God’s “conditional love.” (I know I’m playing a bit with words here, but life is inescapably full of conditions and predicaments, and God’s love for us isn’t theoretical or cloned, it’s very real and very personal and very much in the here and now of our lives.) The parents to whom we were born: whether we were desired by them, whether they stayed together, whether they had enough money or space or time or patience or praise to raise us. How their love for us was informed by their own needs and desires and confusions. Whether our upbringing was for us an experience of liberation or an experience of incar­ceration. Whether we learned about cour­age or shame or joy or perseverance or fear or patience from our earliest days was very much informed by the conditions in which we were raised. The effect our siblings (or the absence of siblings) had on us; teachers, coaches, pastors, relatives, neighbors, co-workers, friends, all of them sharing in our formation or, perhaps in some ways, tragically, in our deforma­tion. Our experi­ences of joy ­and forgiveness, of sickness and health, of acclama­tion and suc­cess, of justice and cruelty, of favoritism, ­or racism, or other demeaning discrimination. Our experiences of what was dependably old and what was excitingly new… in the tiniest and in the great­est of ways. Our experience of know­ing or searching for a home or dwelling place, of discov­ering that we belong or where we belong or if we belong; our occasions to travel into worlds otherwise unknown. Those are the conditions in which we have experienced life, through which we must survive and ultimately thrive, we pray. Those are the kind of conditions – often times, most often times, less than ideal – but that’s life, and it is a real adventure.

And the reason I’m more fascinated with these “conditions” for knowing God’s love is because of Jesus who comes to us, stooping down to us at our own level. We’re no longer talking only about a God of the Law, whose ways were unknow­able, whose face was unseeable, whose name was unpronounceable, whose heart and hands were untouchable, but Jesus who entered the con­ditions of this world as an innocent and needy child, just as we have, to reveal the real pres­ence of God’s love. God Emmanuel: God with us, not just God above us or beyond us, but God with us. God with you in the conditions and in the relationships in which you have known life, past and present. We are loved by Jesus, not despite our history but in light of our history. God loves you. God loves you .

Now I don’t know most of you well. But this is what I will guess. If you are in need of God’s love, or if you are searching for God’s love, it’s because something is missing in your life, or because something is not right in your life. The reason that you are on a quest for God’s love is not because you are so bright, not because you are so gifted or successful or eloquent. How God will catch your atten­tion is not because you are so handsome, so disciplined, so healthy, so secure; it’s not because of your glitter­ing image. I suspect that your quest for God’s love is because something is broken in your life – something about the conditions of your past or your present that is broken or incomplete or vacuous. That break has been God’s entry point. That break is God’s break, God’s breakthrough to you. The Gospel tells us that Jesus has come “to seek and to save the lost” – lost childhoods, lost chances, lost hopes, lost relation­ships, lost needs… and to love us back to life.1 Someone has said that the Gospel – the good news – is bad news before it is good news. The bad news is that our lives our incomplete and perhaps even unmanageable without the God who created us. The good news is that God knows it. God knows you. And God love’s you. And this is not just good news. This is terrific news!

There’s an old adage that says, “Love is blind.” That’s not true. I think it’s quite the opposite. Love is eyes wide open. Love sees beyond the moment, be­yond the surface, deep inside the other, what could be called “insight,” seeing through the eyes of mercy. Which is how God loves you. Who you are, where you are, how you are, why ever it is you’ve gotten to be the way you are, God knows, God desires, God loves.

I’ll tell you a fishing story, 700 or so years old, told by a Dominican Friar named Me ister Eckhart.2 Meister Eckhart describes how “God lies in wait for us with nothing so much as love. Now love is like a fishhook. A fisher cannot catch a fish unless the fish first picks up the hook. If the fish swallows the hook, no matter how it may squirm and turn, the fisher is certain of the fish. Love is the same way. Whoever is captured by love takes up this hook in such a fashion that foot and hand, mouth and eyes, heart and all that is in that person must always belong to God. Therefore, look only for this fishhook, and you will be happily caught. The more you are caught, the more you will be liberated.”

Be caught by the love God has for you… and for everyone else. It’s real, and it’s forever, and it’s for now. Who you are, what you are, however it is that you’ve gotten to be the way you are, God knows, God desires, God loves. God does love you. It’s the truth for you… and it’s also the truth for everyone else. Even those whom we might be tempted to call our enemies, God calls, “my children.” A message for us to hear and to bear about God’s love in every language and culture, to every people and nation: Who you are, what you are, however it is that you’ve gotten to be the way you are, God knows, God desires, God loves. Hear this message of God’s love. Bear this message of God’s love.

1Paraphrased from Luke 19:10 “…For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

2Me ister Eckhart (c. 1260-1327), German born, who entered the Order of Preachers (the Dominicans) around age fifteen. He became a popular preacher at Strasbourg and Cologne, a prominent theme being the union between the human soul and God.

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  1. Joe Stroud on July 13, 2017 at 17:22

    “I think I am now on the beach, or perhaps in the bottom of a boat, flip-flopping about but safely caught.” CMAC, five years after you typed those words, they are the perfect complement to Br. Curtis’ sermon. I have felt very “flip-floppy” lately; the reminder that I am safely caught was so timely! Thank you Br. Curtis and thank you CMAC!

  2. Deirdre on July 9, 2017 at 20:43

    Dear Brother Curtis,
    Thank you. Thank you so very much for this comfort and inspiration.

  3. Ruth West on July 8, 2017 at 16:51

    Br. Curtis, thanks for this good sermon. It brought to my mind the scripture in Matthew’s gospel where he told Simon Peter and his brother
    Andrew, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Jesus not only fishes for us; he also gives his followers the ability to “catch” others for God. Those two left their nets and immediately left their boat and their father and followed him.
    I have heard sermons re: the fact that Christianity is an “upside down religion.” The Friar’s statement bears out that fact: “The more you are caught, the more you will be liberated.”
    How true it is!

  4. rhode on July 8, 2017 at 13:06

    So very grateful to be reminded of the love which never ceases, never punishes, never seeks to discourage or remind us of our failures but gives us daily encouragement to travel forward as our best selves…for His glory, our sanity and the healing of our world.

  5. SusanMarie on July 8, 2017 at 08:01

    This is a beautiful message. Thank you! It reminds me of the message of “The Shack” by Wm. Paul Young. I’ve read the book three times and just watched the movie last night. Reading the book changed my life. Now, after seeing the movie, I do believe I’ve completely swallowed the hook. I slept like a baby last night and feel a thousand pounds lighter this morning. Share this lovely sermon with everyone you can, as I know I will be doing, and if you haven’t already, do yourself the great favor of reading and/or watching “The Shack”.

  6. Harriet on July 8, 2017 at 05:26

    Delightful message to read! Thank you for reminding us that God’s love is forever.

  7. Claudia Booth on April 28, 2016 at 21:17

    Brother Curtis,

    Thank you for your words. I was “raised” by Dominicans and love Meister Eckhardt, but did not realize he was a Dominican. Wonderful, thoughtfull meditation.


  8. Michael on April 28, 2016 at 12:16

    God has known us for a long time and all our faults and foibles even longer. And through all this he still loves us. There is little else to be said

  9. Mryka on April 28, 2016 at 10:32

    I’m reminded by your words of Leonard Cohen’s poem:
    Ring the bells that still can ring
    Forget your perfect offering
    There is a crack in everything
    That’s how the light gets in.
    Hope I remembered that correctly.

  10. Elizabeth Hardy on April 28, 2016 at 10:21

    Br. Curtis: One of the best sermons I have ever read. Thank you, thank you. Right words at the right time for me.

  11. Mary on April 28, 2016 at 09:48

    The beautiful reality that we are so loved is often difficult for me and those I guide to believe. I sent this to those most in need of another voice (other than mine) to remind them of their belovedness–and it is a loving reminder for me. Love the Meister Eckhart fisherman image. Very helpful. Thanks again to SSJE for the emails each morning.

  12. Laura Crowl on October 20, 2012 at 18:54


    Thank you for your loving words! They were the exact words I needed to hear for I recently hit an emotional bottom and learning to surrender to God at a deeper level or as you might say an entry point within my brokenness for God to enter. I do hear the message of God’s love through you and thank you!

  13. CMAC on October 20, 2012 at 10:56

    Dear Brother Curtis: I think the fisherman must have had many years in bringing me to shore. We have seen pictures of fish twisting and turning to disentangle themselves from the hook. // My first conversation, or prayer, with God was when I was a little girl during the war. Why, I don’t know, but the German people were part of my ‘intercessions’ although I would not have known that word.// Years followed years of belief and non-belief, but that fishing line and hook have always been there.// I have been blessed by not being able to slip the hook. Your point is right there: we are missing something and for me, the times of ambivalence, disbelief, have been partnered by times of search,and reaching out for that part of me that needs that something more. //I think I am now on the beach, or perhaps in the bottom of a boat, flip-flopping about but safely caught.
    Blessings to you and all the brothers. C

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