We had always told our children that when they were in college we would pay for the expenses of their tuition and books if their grades reflected what we all knew was their best efforts. For each child, there was a differing expectation, but the formula was the same across the board – your grades at ‘this’ level = our continued financial support.
One of our children thoroughly enjoyed their first semester at BYU-I to the point of being invited not to return after the holidays for the next semester. (Apparently, the school had their own formula too!) This child came to us fretting over their situation. After they had a few serious phone conversations with the powers-that-be in Rexburg they were told they could return, but on an academic probation. The child came to us so happy and relieved for the opportunity extended for a second chance at the school.
Love = No Tuition
After congratulating them and encouraging their serious commitment to further studies we asked the question, “So, how are you going to be paying for this next semester’s expenses?” We reminded them of our financial arrangement and their celebratory mood quickly ended. If they were going to return to BYU-I, they were going to be paying for it. It would have to come out of their savings and we left the decision of returning to school prior to their mission, or not, to them.
This child did return for that cold winter semester in Rexburg after the holidays – a little poorer, but a lot wiser. We were happy they qualified for our financial support through the remaining three years of under-grad work where they received their BA with Honors and then completed a concurrent Law/ MBA program. The academic potential was always there for this child, as was our love and the availability of our financial blessing – one undying and the other conditional.
Is God’s Love Unconditional?
Is God’s love unconditional? What do the scriptures say? They say, no. Well, let me be clearer on that. Better yet, let’s have Elder D. Todd Christofferson explain it best from his October 2016 General Conference address entitled “Abide in My Love”:
“There are many ways to describe and speak of divine love. One of the terms we hear often today is that God’s love is “unconditional.” While in one sense that is true, the descriptor unconditional appears nowhere in scripture. Rather, His love is described in scripture as “great and wonderful love,” “perfect love,” “redeeming love,” and “everlasting love.” These are better terms because the word unconditional can convey mistaken impressions about divine love, such as, God tolerates and excuses anything we do because His love is unconditional, or God makes no demands upon us because His love is unconditional, or all are saved in the heavenly kingdom of God because His love is unconditional. God’s love is infinite and it will endure forever, but what it means for each of us depends on how we respond to His love.” 
If you are a parent, or have a close parental-type relationship with a child or youth, this explanation from Elder Christofferson should make perfect sense to you. We love them always – even through disappointment, frustration, and exhaustion. We love this way innately because God loves us in this way. Our spirits recognize this and we naturally follow suit. His love for us is never-ending as is our love for our children.
So…… If God’s love for us is “everlasting” and “perfect”, does that also mean the manifestations of His love for us are without conitions?
“If” and “Then”
Who hasn’t said something along these lines to their child:
- If you eat your dinner, then you may have some ice cream?
- If you touch your brother one more time, then you’re going to have a bad experience with me.
- If you finish your chores, then we’ll be able to watch a movie together.
- If you put gas in the car, then you can take it tonight.
We make these ‘if’ – then’ statements daily, even multiple times a day. They do not reflect a diminished love for our child. We view these statements as just, and are hopeful that they will help a child make a good choice or steer them to a positive behavior we are looking for from them. We teach that certain ‘blessings’ from us are dependent on certain behaviors from them.
The scriptures are FULL of “if – then” statements from our Heavenly Father. He uses them during His parenting of us for precisely the same reasons.
Elder Russell M. Nelson taught in his masterful address “Divine Love”:
• “If … [certain conditions exist], then … [certain consequences follow].” (The indicators if and then may be written or implied.)
• “Inasmuch as … [certain conditions exist], … [certain consequences follow].”
• “Except … cannot … ”
• “Prove … , if … ” For example, a verse pertaining to our creation reveals a prime purpose for our sojourn here in mortality: “We will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.”
Life here is a period of mortal probation. Our thoughts and actions determine whether our mortal probation can merit heavenly approbation. 
The Conditional Nature of Divine Blessings
Once more, from Elder Nelson:
“It is equally evident that certain blessings come from a loving Lord only if required conditions are met. Examples include:
• “If thou wilt walk in my ways, to keep my statutes and my commandments, … then I will lengthen thy days.” (1 Kgs. 3:14; emphasis added; see also Deut. 19:9.)
• “If thou wilt walk in my statutes, and execute my judgments, and keep all my commandments … ; then will I perform my word with thee.” ( 1 Kgs. 6:12; emphasis added)
• “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.” (D&C 82:10)
• “When we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.” (D&C 130:21)
• “Unto every kingdom is given a law; and unto every law there are certain bounds also and conditions.” (D&C 88:38; see also D&C 132:5)
The Lord declares: “All who will have a blessing at my hands shall abide the law which was appointed for that blessing, and the conditions thereof. … (D&C 132:5) “ (Scriptural references added by author.)
Does Everyone Get a Ribbon?
As soon as no score was being kept in Little League sports and everyone got a ribbon or trophy for simply participating, I saw where the adversary was going to go with this train of thought. And sadly, I was not wrong.
The growing sentiment in society seems to be that outcome need not be that dependent on input, that fairness means equal, and disappointment, red ink on papers, and some having while others have not is mean, traumatizing, and even un-Christ-like. These are temporal examples, but this false ideology, not surprisingly, is found in the spiritual realm also.
“Understanding that divine love and blessings are not truly “unconditional” can defend us against common fallacies such as these: “Since God’s love is unconditional, He will love me regardless …”; or “Since ‘God is love,’ He will love me unconditionally, regardless …”
These arguments are used by anti-Christs to woo people with deception.” 
We Must Qualify
Elder Christofferson gives this excellent clarification to those who have in fact been wooed:
“Some will argue that God blesses everyone without distinction—citing, for example, Jesus’s statement in the Sermon on the Mount: “[God] maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45; see also 3 Nephi 12:45.) Indeed, God does rain down upon all His children all the blessings He can—all the blessings that love and law and justice and mercy will permit.
Nevertheless, God’s greater blessings are conditioned on obedience. President Russell M. Nelson explained: “The resplendent bouquet of God’s love—including eternal life—includes blessings for which we must qualify, not entitlements to be expected unworthily. Sinners cannot bend His will to theirs and require Him to bless them in sin [see Alma 11:37]. If they desire to enjoy every bloom in His beautiful bouquet, they must repent.” 
I Get It
We felt terribly when any of our children missed experiences, opportunities, or ‘blessings’ we wanted to give them due to their not qualifying for them. I wanted them to have all that we had to offer them, but I wanted more for them to learn, understand, and have trust in the law of cause and effect, both temporally and spiritually.
I understand the economy of heaven. I understand “if – then.” Cause and effect makes sense to me. That most of our Father’s blessings – including the relief the Savior’s atonement can bring – are dependent upon MY choices, is clear to me.
Who could ever accuse our perfect Heavenly Father of parenting us imperfectly?
Who could say that He is mean or unfeeling or unkind? Not me. I understand that God wants me to have all that He has, but qualifying for much of that is dependent on me. Instead, I’m going to do my best to learn and keep His commandments, live within His standards, and make and keep covenants for my greatest chance at peace, happiness, and His blessings in this life – and eternal life in the world to come.
 “Abide in My Love”, Elder D. Todd Christofferson, General Conference, October, 2016
 “Divine Love”, Elder Russell M. Nelson, Liahona, Feb. 2003
 “Abide in My Love”, Elder D. Todd Christofferson, General Conference, October, 2016 (The quote from Elder Nelson that he uses is from the “Divine Love” address listed above.)