Constantly Living the Great Commandment is Impossible — And That’s Okay

Constantly Living the Great Commandment is Impossible — And That’s Okay October 14, 2010

A while back I got a letter from a Christian woman asking how she could possibly live up to the standard prescribed by Jesus in The Great Commandment. It’s a great question, because it points to the idea that the Great Commandment isn’t as simple a directive as (God knows) so many Christians routinely assume it to be.

The answer to the question of how any of us can live up to the standard set forth by the Great Commandment is that we can’t. None of us ever can or will. You might be able to love God with all your heart, mind and strength for … what … two minutes at a time? Three? Five? A half hour, if you’re, like, a monk? But sooner or later, even a monk gets hungry and has to think about eating, or itches and has to think about scratching, or gets a call on his iPhone, or whatever. And sooner or later something always brings us, too, back to the big, bad world where, after all, our attention is necessary in order for us to live and make our way.

We simply cannot love God all of the time in the kind of all-consuming way prescribed by the Great Commandment. Not if we ever want to, say, order off a menu, or operate heavy machinery. Likewise, none of us is any more capable of consistently loving every person in the world than we are of swimming across the Atlantic ocean. It’s just not going to happen.

God knows that. He knows we can’t ceaselessly love him and/or others with all the passion we possess. God knows-and a great deal better than any of us know it about ourselves-what our capacities are for getting and receiving love.

He knows we’re human.

I think that when it comes to us fulfilling the Great Commandment, what God wants is for us to try. He wants us to consciously and purposefully love him as much and as often as we’re able to, and to be as generous and loving toward our neighbors as much and often as we’re able to.

And when we fail to love God as much as we can, and when we fail to love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves, he wants us to ask him to forgive us for that failure.

And why does God want us to ask him for his forgiveness?

Because he wants us to again be filled with the fullness of his love for us.

And that-that cycle-is what living as a Christian is all about.

It’s not really about “fulfilling” the Great Commandment. It’s about knowing and claiming our place in the process of trying to.


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  • Shannon

    Great point, as usual. I’ve always kinda had a couple of lines of thoughts about Jesus’ teaching. First, that he was repetitive, or consistent if you want to call it that, in his words as evidenced by the four Gospels carrying over into each other. So he really, really wanted folks to get the message. Secondly, the twelve disciples were hand-picked, blessed by God and actually walked with Jesus hearing his words and seeing his works for at least three years. And many times during those three years, some of the disciples acts like the biggest buffoons imaginable! As in “Hey, you want us to call down fire and brimstone on this city who refuses to accept you?” Jesus, “uh, no.” Facepalm. “Yo, can me and my brother sit beside you because we are ALL that?” Jesus, ” uh, focus guys, please.”

    I’m convinced that one gave him at least an eye twitch.

    So my roundabout point (uneasily typed out on my iPhone) is this : if the dudes who lived and ate and worked and walked side by side with Jesus in the flesh screwed up and didn’t get the message correct – then there must be a lot to say for the Grace that covers us thousands of years later getting the story down the line!

    Do we maybe continue to ask one another too many questions in an endless search for answers that might be found if we just began directing our questions to God in prayer and then following by Faith what is laid on our hearts?

    Just some thoughts… I appreciate so much this blog and all the discussion it brings about. But at some point you grab hold of what you know and hold fast to it.

  • Susan in NY

    John, that was a lovely post.

    Also, congrats for being part of moving some of our evangelical/fundamentalist brethren into at least thinking about the consequences their words have on lgbtq people.

    Great Job!!

  • Don Rappe

    I think it says somewhere (1John?) that “this is love, not that we loved God but that God first loved us”.

  • “God knows that.” / “[H]e wants us to ask him to forgive us for that failure.” / “[H]e wants us to again be filled with the fullness of his love for us.”

    Dear Mr. Shore. You often say these things with such straightforward certainty… like in the post about suffering, and many other… that I have to wonder: HOW do YOU know these things? I read the bible. I read what others think about the bible. I talk to God. Anasını satayım, He even occasionally answers. But His answers are always very curt, even monosilibic, and rather concerned with some particular thing in my life at hand. So far He’s never deigned to engage into an abstract philosophical discussion with me.

    All in all it seems to me that most of these questions do not have simple, clear-cut answers. Yet here you claim to have them. Have you personally been to the mountain and recieved stone tablets? How do you come by this knowledge and certainty?

  • Shannon

    Freefox – everyones relationship is personal and from one’s own perspective. I think this blog is John sharing his and giving other’s their opportunity to join. “Seek and you will find.”

  • Mindy

    My take on it, FreeFox, is that John is teaching – as pastors do. This is his pulpit in a vast cyber-church, and he shares what he believes to be true about God. Each one of us, Christian or not, is free to read and take away those nuggets of truth that resonate most clearly. You do what we should ALL do, and that is question the teachings. How ever John answers you (and I hope that he does, as I, too, am interested), will either ring true for you, or not. Because all of this is based on faith, he can’t “prove” anything to you. He can only tell you how/why he believes what he says to be so – why he translates biblical teachings the way he does.

    The problem with too many is that they don’t question what they are taught. They take what one particular pastor says, or one version of one particular verse, and swallow it whole, then regurgitate it as an “argument” whenever a relevant question arises. They don’t actually think about it, they don’t question it to figure out WHY they believe it to be true. John strikes me as the kind of Christian who has read, listened and questioned extensively – and is sharing the kernels of truth he has parsed out of all of that, by thinking about it with God in his heart.

    That is why even to this non-Christian, John’s words so often ring true – because I believe he ponders the teachings and looks around at the world and melds all that together before he speaks (writes). Which makes it all that more rich, all that more real, and certainly, all that more meaningful.

  • Don Whitt

    I used to think of this sisyphean situation, where we always come up short, as an ironic cruelty. Proof of something fundamentally screwed-up in the universe. Now, I look at it as a sort of spiritual catalyst – that thing that provides the enzyme that makes us meld into a whole person. You can’t have forward motion without friction.

  • Maybe my question came off sounding all wrong. It wasn’t really meant as a challenge – though obviously I think Mr. Shore is wrong in some of his interpretations – but a serious question. I know how I come by my insights (wrong and contradictory as they may be). I suppose I even sometimes sound as certain and convinced as he does, but I know that I really am not. I have doubts about more of less anything concerning good & evil, God, life, humans, morals and ethics. That is not to say I don’t have faith… just that the faith is never, well, without reservation.

    So, like any pastor, Mr. Shore remains human, and I have to wonder, how does he come by his convictions…

  • Tim

    Right-o. With man, it is impossible. With God, all things are possible.

  • Tim

    I would hope that he comes by his convictions through the power of the Holy Spirit. But that is the filter that I trust according to my own Christian bias.

  • Hm. His holy spirit seems to contradict my holy spirit every now and then. I wish we could let them duke it out. ^_^

  • Tim

    I’ve been mistaken about what I thought was the HS. Turns out what I thought had little basis in Scripture or reason. I tend to test what I THINK is HS conviction against James 3:17. Think and think again. If that fails, think some more. Never put it to bed until it bears a resemblance with what James cited as heavenly wisdom. First, pure, then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.

  • Chellee

    Bella Rose, being only 4, has a four-year-old’s heart of love for others. It is moment to moment. She is filled with love one moment and rushing about in excitement or extreme distress the next. She gives WHAT SHE HAS TO GIVE. She is adorable. I accept what she has to give and call it wonderful. Because it is. This is how I think God sees us. He thinks we’re wonderful. He revels in our moments when we can wholeheartedly adore Him or another human being, and He’s one proud Papa. He then is very patient with our ……..let us call them “Other Moments”……and his mature, LOVING heart sees us….sees our imperfections and especially THE REASONS why we fail to walk in love (because we DO have reasons……”hurt people hurt people” ) and He UNDERSTANDS with a heart of compassion. (And he’s still just as proud of us!) Just like I am with my sweetie Bella. She tries. She does her dead-level best to be a good girl. And I see a beautiful heart that is quite amazing and I believe her to be as loving as I could hope for her to be, being 4 years old. She pleases me. She makes me proud. (Even more-so when I can see she’s trying under difficult circumstances.) This is God’s heart toward us. I know it! 😀

    He came and sacrificed himself, in order to cover us with HIS righteousness. He calls us saints. He calls us finished and complete. He sees us as perfect. Because of what he did. Not because of our ability to measure up. (thank God cause he KNOWS that would never be enough. I’m glad he isn’t holding his breath for me. lol) But you know how “Love is Blind?” (I know that’s not totally true that often) But when you first “fall in love” with someone….you only see their good points and you just think they are “the shit!” I truly believe this is the way God sees us. He says Jesus came to take all of our sins and failures upon himself so we could be made the righteousness of God. We are made GLORIOUS. And I used to judge myself (and of course that meant I also judged others) harshly, because I thought he only saw me that way because he “chose” to love me “anyway”. But would He,…..say…..take a rotten slab of meat and just put a nice glaze on top of it and call it good??? He’s magical. He knows how to turn water into wine. He also knows how to completely purify us and keep us that way. He qualifies us so that we “measure up”!

    To me…..that is GOOD NEWS! 🙂