The Creation, the Fall, the Atonement, and the Family

In the last several years I have noticed that Church leaders are increasingly speaking with great clarity about the role that the forming of eternal families plays in God’s plan. In 2015 after a General Conference full of talks about the family, I wrote about how the Family was increasingly being integrated into the Plan of Salvation as one of the pillars of eternity.

This is such an important endeavor. So many, even faithful and active members, may wonder why we spend so much time discussing topics related to marriage and families. If the doctrine of the family is not linked to the plan and to the atonement of Jesus Christ, then it will lac vitality and saving power.

I was delighted therefore to come across President Nelson’s October 1996 talk entitled simply enough The Atonement. This talk is full of really interesting insights about the plan of salvation. For instance, President Nelson speaks about the “the blessing of aging” which assures that we eventually are able to return to God a very unusual way of thinking about growing older.

But I am most grateful for some insights that come at the very end of the talk regarding the purpose of the Atonement and the Plan:

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The Conditional Love of God

I am going to deviate a bit today from studying President Nelson’s General Conference talks since an Ensign article that he wrote has been the focus of quite a lot of attention this week as a result of what appears to be a renewed focus by General Authorities on its core message

In February 2003 then Elder Russell M. Nelson published an article in the Ensign entitled Divine Love. The core purpose of this article is to emphasize that while God loves us with an “infinite,” “enduring,” and “universal” love, his love is also in certain respects “conditional” because  “the higher levels of love” and  “certain divine blessings stemming from that love—are conditional.”

I have seen a lot of very intense reactions to this article. Some people suggest that if God’s love is conditional that means that he does not really love us or that his love is abusive in that it is exerted in a coercive way to compel us to obey.

The danger of making parental love conditional on compliance is something that I am very sensitive to. In my complex relationship with my father, I felt sometimes like if I did not do what he wanted he would not love me. Threats that he would disinherit me or cut me off were a part of our relationship even before I began looking into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and intensified after that. As a father I am very committed to making it clear to my children that I will never ever do that to them.

And yet I am comfortable with the way that President Nelson describes the love of God as not “unconditional” in nature.

Understanding why requires first exploring the history and origin of the concept of “unconditional love.” It also requires us to seek an accurate understanding of the nature and character of God.

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