I had a sweet surprise this morning when I realized my Sacramento-to-Philadelphia ticket was first class. I had walked all the way to row six when I discovered it. I then backtracked over exasperated passengers to get to 1A. It’s not as if I had no warning—I saw “1A” on my ticket; the flight attendant had said “1A” when she took my ticket; I had passed 1A when I entered the plane. I suppose it was conditioning that made me assume I was coach class.
I embrace my coach status. But this morning I was called up higher, like the guy at the feast who took the lowest place and was called up to the highest place. From the orange juice refills, to the full-course breakfast, to the steaming face towel, I soaked it in.
I felt a little guilty, actually; but I reminded myself that every person has received much more than they deserve. Life itself, for one, for “the wages of sin is death,” Romans 3:23.
We toss about the expression “unconditional love” like confetti at a wedding. It has a warm, comfy feeling. It’s God’s chicken soup for the soul, at least in our thinking. But this proves that we don’t know what we’re talking about when we say “unconditional love,” for there is nothing more galling to human nature. We all want to be loved based on desert. We want to be worthy of love. A teen girl’s crush asks her out; she feels pretty. A rock star hears the screaming crowds; he feels powerful. Even a dog can experience pride when the trainer throws him a bone for a trick well done. The love is welcomed because it testifies to the merits of the loved. But unconditional love? Love that loves in spite of my ugliness, my weakness, my failure? It sabotages my ego. By nature, I detest that kind of love.
Next time the term escapes your lips, pause. Think about what you’re saying. It’s a love that by its very existence says you’re a wretch. If you don’t know your wretchedness, you’re liable to reject the love that would prove it.
If, on the other hand, you do know your absolute poverty before God, unconditional love will be the most luxuriant richness you’ve ever known. You’ll be like me—tired, weak, bedraggled, gratefully splayed out in a first-class seat.