You want me to tell you why God is to be loved and how much. I answer, the reason for loving
God is God Himself; and the measure of love due to Him is immeasurable love.
– Bernard of Clairvaux
To fulfill the Great Commandment, we must love God, not merely the idea of loving God. That is, loving God is not merely an ideal we must desire, it is a desire itself. Loving God is desiring God.
Desires, like ideas, can be right or wrong, true or false, corresponding or not. Loving God rightly requires that our love, or desire, for God be true. We must love God as he is if we are to fulfill the first and greatest commandment.
This points in two directions. First, we love God rightly when the desire we have for Him corresponds to Him in degree. God occupies a kind of status, a kind of value, a kind of beauty which our desire or love must express. If God is truly supreme or chief of all that is desirable, then our desire for Him ought to be ultimate. Failing to love Him in this way is to invert, or at least confuse the order of our loves. It is to be guilty of inordinate love.
Second, we love God rightly when the desire we have for Him corresponds to Him in kind. You love God as he is when the kind of love you offer corresponds to who he is. As C.S. Lewis put it, “the form of the desire is in the object of desire”.1 Every created thing has a corresponding love, and so does the Creator. You do not love God the way you love a son, a spouse or a sunrise. God is not to be loved the way we love our pets, our PCs or our professions. Were you to love God with the love that belongs to ice cream, soft toys, romantic love-interests or adorable puppies, you would be guilty of a love that does not correspond to God – an inordinate love.
If the love I think I have for God does not correspond to who or what God actually is, in degree or in kind, what is happening? If my love for God misses God by a mile, but I feel warmed by the experience, what am I actually doing? I am actually busy with self-gratification. So deceitful is the human heart (Jer 17:9), that what I call love for God may actually be idolatry: a worshipping of myself and my own happiness. Given the massive disagreement in contemporary Christianity on how we should sing, pray or preach about God, we may be the generation who has most excelled at pleasing ourselves and calling it worship.
To wade through the confusion that saturates the current religious atmosphere, we must return to Christ’s words to that scribe and consider them carefully.
Studying the Shema
Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, “Which is the first commandment of all?” Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. ‘And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. (Mark 12:28-30)
Jesus told the inquisitive scribe what the greatest commandment is. He used his divine authority to summarise the most important idea of all Scripture by quoting Scripture. And surprisingly, he didn’t say what would become John 3:16, or quote Genesis 1:1, or give the Great Commission. Instead, he quoted a Scripture which is still prayed by Jews around the world: Deuteronomy 6:4-5.
The key to loving God appropriately is embedded in Jesus’ answer. The scribe had asked for the most important commandment. The commandment would be “You shall love the Lord your God.” Jesus does something unexpected. He does not begin quoting at Deuteronomy 6:5. He begins by quoting from verse 4: “Hear O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one.”
Verse 4 is not a command, it is a statement. It does not tell you to do anything (besides pay attention to its statement); it tells you something about God. Why would Jesus have done that?
Jesus began with verse 4 of Deuteronomy 6 because it is the foundation of and basis for verse 5. The statement about God is the reason for the response to God. To put it another way, only if you understand the significance of the statement “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one”, will you understand what it means to love God with all your heart, soul and strength. Remove verse 4, and all you have is a command to love God wholeheartedly. Verse 4 explains who this God is, what it is he deserves and consequently, what it means to love him with all your heart, soul and strength. We need to scrutinise verse 4.
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!
The oneness spoken of here is not a denial of the Trinity. The oneness here underlines the uniqueness of God. He is the One, the only one. That is, the sense of the passage is, “Hear O Israel, Yahweh is our God, Yahweh alone.” In fact, we know that this is how Israel understood it because of the scribe’s response.
So the scribe said to Him, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. (Mark 12:32, emphasis added)
Two profoundly important statements call for our meditation:
1) Only one God exists.
2) Yahweh is that one God.
Here is the foundation for the love we are to have for God. Only one God exists, and he is Yahweh.
In other words, the love we are to have for Yahweh is the love we reserve for a god. Love for God is the love of worship. Since Yahweh is the only God, Yahweh alone deserves worship.
Nothing in the universe deserves the status of a god, except Yahweh. Nothing and no one else exists that the human heart should treat as a god. While anything can be worshipped, not everything deserves to be worshipped. The first of the Ten Commandments is really the negative formulation of the Greatest Commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me”. Nothing and no one else should receive this worship-love from us.
- Surprised by Joy (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc., 1955), 220. [↩]