Loving God with our whole selves
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Over the past two weeks, I considered a little bit who the God of the Bible is and how we come to know him. From these two points, we must ask ourselves, ‘How should we respond?’ Augustine famously begins his book, Confessions, ‘Great are you, O Lord, and exceedingly worthy of praise; your power is immense, and your wisdom beyond reckoning. And so we humans, who are a due part of your creation, long to praise you—we who carry our mortality with us, carry the evidence of our sin and with it the proof that you thwart the proud. Yet these humans, due part of your creation as they are, still long to praise you. You stir us so that praising you may bring us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our hearts are unquiet until it rests in you.’
Notice how Augustine in his longing and prayerful words displays the basic response of humans. We are restless of ourselves, and it is only in worshiping God that we find true rest. Augustine, of the 4th/5th centuries, knew this. He spent nearly 32 years of his life searching for this true rest. He looked in all the famous philosophies of his day, and found nothing of true value. This is because we humans who were created by the triune God were made to worship Him. It isn’t a coincidence that God’s creatures have an insatiable need to worship something. We all devote ourselves to something and we are regularly looking for meaning, significance, and are trying to know that we are valuable through what we do or through our basic identity.
Now someone might be thinking, ‘Our day has a lot better philosophies than Augustine’s day, I have found my satisfaction in Bernie Sanders, or Richard Dawkins, or Roger Scruton or name your political figure.’ In our pride, we imagine our thinkers are better because they’re newer. The fact of the matter is that almost no political or philosophical worldview engages with what makes us truly human, and many or most of them don’t ask or answer the deep questions that we carry with us. Why do people die? Why can’t anything even be near-perfect? Why is happiness so elusive? Why is depression and suicide on the rise in our world? We have it so easy compared to so many other ages in history!
I would suggest that the Christian worldview in placing the worship of God first helps us to put the right order on our philosophies. Humans are first and foremost worshipers, and Jesus says as much in our passage: the greatest commandment is that we love God with our whole heart and with our whole soul and with our whole mind. Our whole being is meant to be oriented as worshiping God. Adam and Eve were created to find rest in the goodness of creation that God made, and God intended to have fellowship with humanity from then on. You could almost say, there wasn’t supposed to be an end to the seventh day. But the darkness of sin has led us to neglect and forget this essential truth: we were made to find our rest in God, but we don’t. In our day and age, we are either invited to be too busy to notice our need for worship, or we are invited to pure hedonism (giving in to any pleasure that you want as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone), or we are left alone in our massive homes. In each position our world draws us away from our deepest need: to worship God. And in a curious way, it even invites us away from the responsibility we have to love our neighbor as ourselves. We simply learn to love ourselves. Yet in these two things, loving God and loving our neighbor, the whole law is summarized.
It is important though to realize that worshiping God and loving our neighbor is defined by the scriptures. There is a common standard of what worship and love looks like. Although this might feel constraining at first, in retrospect, it is relieving because if there is no standard of worship or love, then these things are defined by humans. And if there is one thing that we should know about humans it is that we hold strongly, ‘to each his own.’ There is a reason wars and political factions rise up in our world. Every individual defines these things differently and it causes divisions. This is why governments function through written and unwritten rules which govern disputes. The highest standard when it comes to knowing about loving God and loving our neighbor is Scripture itself. So it is essential that we know what it says and respond to it diligently.
Next week, I am going to continue to consider what our response to God is as humans. Although this might be the beginning, there is still more that we can say about how we should respond to God.