Agapé Love vs. Conditional Love

“Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.” — 1 John 4:8

The First Reading for today’s Mass is from the First Epistle of St. John and one of the most insightful and beautiful readings in the Bible. It is also very hard for me to live by as I am frequently stuck in a “transactional mentality” of only being nice to those who are nice to me or who can help me. I rarely consider others beyond my small circle but much truly love the stranger or those who do harm to me. 

Today’s reflection from Living Space is a beautiful summary of agapé love and something for me to ponder the remainder of the Christmas Season and into Ordinary Time:

What, then, do we mean by love in our reading today? C S Lewis, the Christian writer, once wrote a book called The Four Loves. There he describes four kinds of love, all of which should be part of Christian living. One of these is agape, the form of love that 1 John is talking about. I would like to offer a definition of agape which may be helpful. It is: “a passionate desire for the well-being of the other”.

This is the love that God unconditionally extends to all his creatures without exception. It is the love that each of us, too, is to extend to every one of our brothers and sisters – again, without a single exception. It is an outreaching love; it is an unconditional love; it does not depend on mood, liking or disliking. It is based purely and simply on the need and on the good of the other. It may or may not be expressed sexually but it is definitely not the love that most of the pop songs are talking about.

No matter what we do, no matter how evil or vicious we are, God’s love for us remains unchanging and unchangeable. “Love it was that made us and Love it was that saved us…” as the hymn says. The reason is simple: ‘God IS love’. Love enters into his very being. God cannot not love – if he did, he would no longer be God.

It is strange to say (and for some it may be shocking) but God loves the most depraved person we could imagine and Our Lady or one of the saints in exactly the same way. He cannot do otherwise. Is there no difference then? The difference between Our lady and the evil person is not in God’s love for them but in their response to the love offered to them. One person has a closed heart; Our Lady from the moment of the Annunciation gave an unconditional ‘Yes’ which she never withdrew.

All our loving then is simply an opening of our heart, a return of the love that God has first shown us. When we reveal ourselves as loving persons it is because God’s love is working in us and through us. The sign that we are loving him is also that we are filled with love ourselves, love which originally came from him.

As someone once said, God’s love is like electricity. God’s love is only in us when it is passing through us. It can never stop with ourselves. When we keep that love to ourselves, it dies.

God’s love is available in abundance to anyone who opens their heart to him. May I be able to do that. But that love, too, must continue to flow out beyond me to everyone I meet. It is impossible to separate God’s love for me and my love for others. We cannot have one without the other.

Read Full Reflection

See also Deus Caritas Est (God is Love) by Pope Benedict XVI


About William Ockham

I am a father of two with eclectic interests in theology, philosophy and sports. I chose the pseudonym William Ockham in honor of his contributions to philosophy, specifically Occam's Razor, and its contributions to modern scientific theory. My blog ( explores Ignatian Spirituality and the intersection of faith, science and reason through the life and writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (pictured above).
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8 Responses to Agapé Love vs. Conditional Love

  1. win.soko says:

    Great post for the start of the new year! Thank you! I often struggled with the concept of loving someone who was not a good person for me to be in a relationship with – a friend who turned out to be not as nice as I thought, a choir member who has more psychological problems than we can deal with – so what do you do? Stay friends? Keep them in your life? And then my youngest daughter summed it up beautifully – “No Mom, you love them, wish them well and don’t have them in your life. You wish the best for them and send them on their way.” You can love someone and know they can’t be in your life – liberating…as it has been said, it is easy to love those you like, but those you don’t or those who are “your enemies” – a totally different story. Love them, wish them well. Love to you for all you do, thanks.

    • Thank you for the kind words. Your example is a very useful one. I often struggle with the concept of loving someone who has hurt me or who is generally not a nice person. My conditioning is to be nice to those who are nice to me and ignore to often be hostile to those are not nice people, a very conditional or transactional love. Part of my inner transformation and growing closer to God is to open myself up to be more empathetic, more kind, more loving to everyone. It is hard as it is not natural for me. I just keep praying and trying to open myself up.

      Thank you for your sharing portions of your spiritual journey on your blog as it has helped me immensely.

      W. Ockham

      • win.soko says:

        I understand what you mean, I think that is another aspect of my example as well and as you so clearly put,it is very conditional and transactional. I agree we have to pray to be more empathetic and walk on the edge of right empathy and right love and achieve balance through right attachment. Maybe that is where a big part of the issue lies – in attachment to what WE believe is the right way to love and the right way for others to love us.

        Thank you for your encouraging words on my sharing my journey. Sometimes I feel a bit narcissistic and wonder why would anyone want to read about my journey. Your comment was very helpful. Your blog also reminds me to stay out of my head and prods me to keep digging deeper so thank you for your work.

        Blessings to you.

  2. win.soko says:

    Reblogged this on molma.indigo and commented:
    Great post for the start of the new year! Thanks William Ockham!

  3. Lynda says:

    Several years ago my spouse left but not before much damage had been done in my life. The truth that God loves him as much as God loves me was one that many of my friends were unwilling to accept. Accepting this truth was central to my own healing for then I was able to see him as a child of God and forgive all that had occurred. I’m not saying it was an easy path to take but it was a healing one. God is good.

    • Lynda,

      Thank you for sharing a bit of your journey. I am sorry to hear that your ex-spouse caused you much pain. Your life is a tremendous witness to the healing power of God and ability to forgive and love those who hurt you. That is one area where I struggle mightily and your testimony is inspiring.

      W. Ockham

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