Loving God?

This post is related in a way, to a the one before last - in ways which should, I hope, become obvious as you read.

Here I am, yet again, about to start banging on about God’s love. But this time looking at it from the other side, specifically, thinking about how we love God. It has taken me some days to write and, yesterday, I thought I was about finished. But then Fr. Richard Rohr published one of his Daily Meditations, which turned out to be saying almost precisely the same thing. Here then, is a somewhat ‘nuanced’ version of what I was going to say.

Jesus told a questioner, when he asked which was the greatest commandment, that there were two:

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. Matthew 22:37-40

The second is easy to understand, and is related closely to the ‘Golden Rule’, found in all major religions ‘treat others as you would like to be treated yourself.’

But what about the first? How do we love God?

Many people would see that in moralistic terms - the way we love God is to follow the strictures of the Mosaic Law. But, as we have discussed previously, I believe we are under grace now, not under law. So it doesn’t seem obvious to me that obeying the law equates to loving God.

Others believe we love God by going to church, and singing to Him.

And some believe it’s both of the above.

I did have a thought though, about something which at first seems peripheral to this conversation - some words of John in his first letter:

Beloved friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 1 John 4:7

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 1 John 4:16b

We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. 1 John 4:19-21

And I began to wonder.

How do we please God? We please God by loving him, and loving our neighbour. God ‘lives in’ the relationship of those who love each other. So do we love God by loving our neighbour? And was the law of Moses really just a way to try to ‘legislate’ us to love each other in the first place?

It’s very hard to love God. He’s incorporeal (he has no body), so it’s difficult to ‘do’ anything directly for him to show him that we love him. We, mostly, don’t hold ‘real’ conversations with him. We can praise him in words - we can sing to Him, or in worship in ‘prayed’ words of praise… But that’s distinctly ‘intangible’. If I keep telling someone I love them, but never actually *do* anything to demonstrate that love, it seems hollow and increasingly meaningless.

To put this slightly differently, if God is treated as an ‘object’ that we love, then there is always some sort of ‘distance’ between us and him; He exists at some sort of remove from us - it’s hard to love him like that - we’re sort of forced to do little more than stand and sing to this remote ‘figure’. There’s a distance between us and the ultimate source of truth, happiness, and meaning… Although, I admit, Psalm 22:3 does say that God inhabits, or dwells in, the praises of his people.

But you are holy,
you who inhabit the praises of Israel.

The Hebrew word translated as ‘inhabits’ or ‘dwells’ is the same word as that found in Genesis 4:20:

Adah gave birth to Jabal, who was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock.

But if, as John tells us, God is to be found living within the love we show each other, then the very act of loving our neighbour brings us into close communion with God - He is right there, at the very heart of the relationship. He is no longer ‘something out there’.

Maybe Jesus gives us a clue or two in stating that there are two ‘most important’ commandments, and then John makes it more explicit in stating that God lives in the love we show each other…

Maybe, we obey the first greatest commandment by obeying the second! Maybe it’s in loving our neighbour that we love God. And, oddly (or perhaps not so oddly), when we love our neighbour, and work for their good, we actually find ourselves following the spirit (if not strictly the letter) of the Mosaic Law - which perhaps brings us back, full circle, to the morality of obeying the law, but morality as a ‘side-effect’ rather than it being our aim.

Is this a proper understanding of God? Perhaps He isn’t a being we can love directly, but is perhaps rather a ‘depth’ to be found within the very act of loving our neighbour?

And that brings us, neatly, onto the ‘follow-up’ question, asked by (another?) expert in the law in Luke 10:29:

‘And who is my neighbour?’

Which leads us into Jesus telling the man a parable - the one we know as the Parable of the Good Samaritan…

Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” Luke 10:29-37

A large part of the point of the parable was telling us to love those whom we see as our enemies - in effect, not treating them as enemies, but as friends. Whoever you see as your enemies - gays, lesbians, bisexuals, Muslims, Jews, Wiccans, atheists, agnostics, Roman Catholics, Baptists, Pentecostals, Russians, French, Americans, even the British - absolutely anybody at all - God loves them all without placing any conditions on his love whatsoever and he hopes you will do the same…

And then He can live in that relationship too!

Copyright Phil Hendry, 2022