In this article at ordinarypastor.com, the idea is set forth that while in one sense the love of God for us is unconditional, in another sense it is very conditional: in essence, God loves us because of what Jesus did for us.
As the author wrote: "The basis for God’s love for anyone is the doing and dying of Christ for them."
I used to believe this. I think it is a pretty typical Reformed notion. But there is a problem. First, I don't believe it is Scriptural. Second, I don't believe it falls in line with the early thought of our own tradition (if I even consider myself "Reformed" any more). Take a look at John Calvin's commentary on John 3:16. But thirdly, it isn't even logical unless you want to come to all sorts of dubious conclusions about the Godhead.
So, God (the Father) needed help loving us, so Jesus stepped in to save the day? This notion reminds me of one of the valid criticisms of Anselm's view of the atonement. Did the death of Jesus really make God merciful toward us? I don't believe so. I believe it is the other way around. The mercy of God put Jesus on the cross. What Jesus did was remove the obstacle of God's wrath and provide a way for God's love and mercy to reconnect with us, His creatures, without having His closeness and holiness utterly destroy us.
No, the cross of Christ did not make God merciful and loving toward us. The cross of Christ is the result of God's love and mercy. However, I would say that the basis for God's acceptance of anyone is the doing and dying of Christ for them. Is this splitting theological hairs? I don't think so. I think it matters very much because the two ideas paint different pictures of God's character.
So what truly makes the unconditional love of God so truly remarkable? Anyone who has ever had a wayward child or spouse has a glimpse of the answer: unconditional love suffers.
Today, often we think of unconditional love in very sentimental terms... like God is a doting grandfather who loves us because he sees us through sort of... sentimental, rose-colored glasses. He doesn't really get involved in our lives. He doesn't want to really know about what we are doing in our personal lives (because that might change his opinion of us). He likes to still think of us as innocent "little Johnny." Or even if the grandparent image doesn't apply, our thinking of unconditional love often still lacks any truly deep involvement. It may come out more like a sort of naive permissivism. "Oh, shucks. There you go again, you little rascal. But you know I still love you."
What makes unconditional love so amazing is not that it permits and minimizes and turns a blind eye to evil and wrong. What makes it amazing is that it stays rooted in reality, in the truth, and yet endures the wrong, the hurt, the betrayal, the suffering. It takes it. It doesn't take the wrongdoing forever. At a point it stands up and says "No more!" However, unconditional love is known by its refusal to cover itself, numb itself out, or changes its position. That means that unconditional love will suffer. In this world, it is the unavoidable consequence.
If we think of it this way, we can see that the cross of Christ is the embodiment of His unconditional love. It is literally God suffering the rejection of the world -something which He still suffers even now.