“Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” asked the Pharisees.
Jesus answered, “Thou Shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all they soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
I like this exchange between Jesus and his detractors quite a lot. I like that Jesus has given us one unifying concept for all of God’s commandments, and that concept is love. It reminds me of the fact that scientists and mathematicians are always trying to find general theories that encompass and explain all of the smaller facts and concepts that they know about. Jesus encompasses the entire gospel in two statements: Love God, and Love Your Neighbor. Maybe we could call that The General Theory of the Gospel.
But I’m also troubled by this theory, because I wonder if is it even possible to love God with all one’s heart, soul, and mind? Is it possible to love God – someone we’ve only heard about, read about, and experienced in non-physical ways – as much as we love the people and things that we see and feel in life?
I hope that it’s possible to come to love God that much, but I think we have to really come to know Him first, because we can’t love what we don’t know. For example, I may have the respect for your Aunt Martha that I believe is due to all human beings, but I don’t love her, because I don’t know. And while my first reaction to your dog Fido may be dislike because I’m not much of a dog person, I suppose given enough time and the right circumstances, I could come to love him as much as you do.
So how do I get to know God? In asking myself that question, I thought about the people in my life that I love, and how I came to love them.
The first people I loved were my parents. And I think this must be almost universally true. No matter what direction your relationship with your parents takes later in life, as a small child, you love your parents. And this is because they first loved you. They provided you with food and shelter, with comfort, playtime, and opportunities to learn and make friends. You depended on them utterly, and you learned that you could trust them to provide for you.
And so it is with God. While it’s not always easy to see how God provides in our lives, a recognition that He loves and provides for us like a parent will help us to come to love Him. John chapter 4 verse 22 says this succinctly: “We love him, because he first loved us.”
The second group of people I’ve loved include people outside my childhood family – friends, and eventually my husband. I think this love often starts with an attraction to things that we admire in someone, either in their personality or their physical appearance. When I met my husband I was first attracted to the way he spoke, the way he listened when I spoke, his musical abilities, and his good haircut and stylish glasses. As I got to know him better I became attracted to his creativity, loyalty, and honesty. When we’re in the presence of someone whose attributes really attract us, we can’t help but start to love them, especially when they love us in return.
God also has attributes that are attractive to me, that I would like to possess or just be in the presence of. God is intelligent, wise, creative, merciful, just, and powerful. And while we can’t see his physical attributes directly, the earth we live in attests to the great beauty that he possesses.Another reason I’ve loved certain people is that I like the way I look when I’m reflected in their eyes – which I suppose is another way of saying they love me. My grandparents are an example of this. They’ve always managed to make me feel like I’m an especially remarkable person when I’m in their presence. They never scolded or chastised, but instead said I was talented, smart, and beautiful. Of course God is not going to flatter me in the same way my grandparents did – that wouldn’t do anything to help me grow. But appreciating our worth in God’s eyes does create a sense of connection and of love between us and God.
Jesus taught that the very hairs of our head are numbered, and that five sparrows were not sold for two farthings without God noticing. “Fear not therefore: (he said) ye are of more value than many sparrows.” (Luke 12: 6 & 7) And Doctrine & Covenants 18:10 tells us: “Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.” I think the great value we have to God as his children can be an important resource for us when we’re feeling spiritually disconnected and down.
As a final point, have you ever done something that hurt someone you love, something you really regretted, but simply couldn’t take back? And have you been forgiven by that person, more quickly and more fully than you felt you deserved? I have. And it made me love that person even more than I had before. For the very small price of confessing our mistakes and asking forgiveness, God does the same thing for us. Grace is a gift made possible by Jesus’ sacrifice for us, not something deserved or earned, and God’s forgiving our sins, usually the same ones over and over again, is an unmistakable sign of his love for us. We should return that love with an increased love for Him.
Which brings me to the question, what happens when we love God?
Under the General Theory of the Gospel, loving God will translate into naturally living the details of the Gospel. Conversely, all of the individual components of trying to live like a disciple of Christ can add up to loving God with your all your heart, soul, and mind. In reality, we work at it from both ends. The final result, we hope, will be the ability to love, and be loved, in the kingdom of God.
I think this paraphrase of the 23rd Psalm by Isaac Watts summarizes this loving relationship with God really beautifully:
My Shepherd will supply my need:
Jehovah is His Name;
In pastures fresh He makes me feed,
Beside the living stream.
He brings my wandering spirit back
When I forsake His ways,
And leads me, for His mercy’s sake,
In paths of truth and grace.
When I walk through the shades of death
One word of Thy supporting breath
Drives all my fears away.
Thy hand, in sight of all my foes,
Doth still my table spread;
My cup with blessings overflows,
Thine oil anoints my head.
The sure provisions of my God
Attend me all my days;
O may Thy house be my abode,
And all my work be praise.
There would I find a settled rest,
While others go and come;
No more a stranger, or a guest,
But like a child at home.