As Christians, we talk a lot about loving others as Jesus showed us to love. In fact, we even designate a special word for that particular kind of Christian love (caritas), which is loosely translated as “charity”. Through charity, we love people we don’t know or maybe even don’t like, but we do it because Jesus told us to do it. It’s the Christian thing to do.
But Jesus also told us to love someone else, and that the love with which we are to love that someone else is to be first and foremost of all our loves, including caritas. In fact, the love that Jesus told us about is so crucial and so absolutely necessary that God made it the very first Commandment, specifying that we are to love him with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind and all our strength. This is not an optional love, like charity, that we can turn on and off at whim or put into effect only when the opportunity arises. Loving God is a Commandment, and not just any Commandment – the first one on the list, and the one that Jesus pointed out as being the most important.
So this is what you need to do right now – you need to stop whatever it is you’re doing and answer this question honestly: Do you love God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength? Because if you don’t love God that way, you’ve got a problem, and it’s a big one: You’re breaking a Commandment. In other words, not loving God is the same as murder, theft or adultery.
As I mentioned, we Christians talk a lot about love, but it’s almost always about love for others (neighbours or enemies); we don’t talk much about loving God. Why is that? Why is it that we don’t talk about how much we love God? Don’t you find that odd, considering that loving God is actually a Commandment?
When I was an atheist, I was always “falling in love” and always telling anyone who’d listen all about it. The various objects of my affection would so dominate my heart, mind, soul and strength that I would do whatever I had to in order to be with them, even if it meant I had to quit my job, sell all my belongings, and move half-way around the world. In fact, I did just that more than a few times before being born-again at age 36. And despite my pouring everything I had into those relationships, they all eventually came either to a sad and sorry end or to a catastrophic one, along with the alleged love.
God commands us to love him with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind and all our strength, but what kind of love is that? Does he want us to obsess over him, the way I used to obsess over my various lovers? No. Obsessive love is not love; it’s a form of coveting, which is another big no-no on the Big List. Does he want us to grit our teeth and do whatever we know he wants us to do, because he’s God? No. Loving someone with everything you’ve got is not a dutiful or obligatory kind of love; it’s a gut-level need that’s as natural and necessary as breathing. Then does he want us to love him blindly and without question? No, he wants us to love him with our mind as well, which means we are fully conscious of what we’re doing.
So what kind of love does God command of us?
God wants us to love him like we are his little children and he is our beloved Father. And being his little children, we will do what our Heavenly Father wants us to do for no other reason than that he is our Father and that we love him and trust him and need him and obey him and a little bit fear him (but in a healthy way). This is the kind of love God commands us to have for him.
But why does God want this? Is he a self-absorbed ego-maniacal narcissist? Of course not. If we truly love God as he commands us to love him, then doing his will becomes a natural extension of our love for him. That’s how Jesus loved God during his time on Earth and also why Jesus was able to do God’s will so easily. Loving God and doing his will was, for Jesus, the same thing, and it can be for us as well.
The more you make an effort to love God (that is, the more you make an effort to follow the Commandment), the more you will do God’s will not as a burden but as a pleasure, and the easier doing his will becomes. In fact, loving God is the key to doing his will and to doing it effortlessly and joyfully. In loving God, you will want to please him for no other reason than that you love him and so do his will out of love, not obligation. Remember – you will not make it to Heaven unless you do God’s will willingly, like Jesus did. That’s why God has made loving him the first and most important Commandment, as loving him ultimately is not for his sake, but for ours.