Thursday, May 12, 2011

How to Love God -- Part 1


It doesn't take a great deal of studying the Christian faith to understand
that the central Theme of Christianity is LOVE, beginning with God's
unfailing, unflappable, passionate love for us, and then as a response, on
our part, by first loving God Himself and then loving one another in the
same way that we love ourselves... As a foundation for leaning how
to love God, consider these things:

    -- The very Nature of God is a 3-way community of Love
    which we call the "Trinity", or, Tri-Unity (Three-in-One)

    -- God created Humankind because Love seeks to share Itself;
    it spills out, overflows, and spreads Truth and Beauty and
    Goodness in every direction; so God made Man in order to
    continue sharing LOVE, with free-will Souls who could love Him
    in return... in a relationship of Love...

    -- This is not some weak, foolish love that ignores the hard
    questions: All the blood sacrifices of the Old Testament were
    foreshadows of the final sacrifice of the spotless Lamb of God,
    an act that would settle forever the requirement for Justice
    wherever there is Evil...

    -- ... all because of God's profound, passionate, radical LOVE
    for every human Soul that ever has or ever will exist... Each
    of whom is a unique product of God's infinite, creative genius...

    -- Isaiah 53 makes it clear that God has virtually NO INTEREST in
    "religion" per se, but in Justice and Mercy, Self-Sacrifice and
    Service to others...

    -- To those who understand and accept that Love, God reveals, in
    and through the Person of Jesus Christ, just two Commands:
    LOVE Me, and LOVE those nearest to you even as you are
    loving yourself.

    -- Jesus Himself said that the HALLMARK of what would define
    His disciples would be their LOVE for each other...

    -- Paul wrote to the Corinthians that LOVE is the greatest of
    the three Christian transcendentals; he went into great detail to
    explain that even Faith and Hope are nothing compared to Love...

So it would seem patently clear that if we are "majoring on the majors and
minoring on the minors", we will understand that LOVE ought to be the
fundamental pillar around which we build our faith and our lives.

The best place to begin, then, is at the beginning:
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with
all your strength and with all your mind", and, "Love your neighbor as yourself."
(Luke 10:27, where Jesus quoted an aggregate of Old Testament sources)

So what does it mean? How do we love God?

Some believers would answer instantly, reflexively, along the lines of,
"Loving God means obeying Him." Well, there are some serious difficulties
with that answer:

Logical Circularity
We're to love God... fine, how? Obey Him. Great. Obedience means doing
what He has commanded; what has He commanded? First and foremost,
Love Him. Fine, so how do we do that? Well, obey Him.
And how do we do that...? (ad infinitum...)

You see the problem, I'm sure: If we answer the "how?" by saying that
loving God means (simply) "obeying" Him, we run into an endless cycle.
Furthermore, you can Obey without Loving, but you cannot Love without Obeying,
so it seems clear that obedience is predicated on Love, and the question
before us is how to Love God; in other words, we'll be obeying God WHEN we
have learned how to love Him, as PART of loving Him...

The next stage of that answer that some might give would be, "well, it means
obeying [all the other commands]"... But if God Himself has said [all the other
commands] boil down to just those TWO, we're right back where we started,
are we not? And didn't Jesus point out, to the Pharisees during His ministry,
the emptiness of following "the Law" without having a genuine love for God?
Jesus borrows a passage from Isaiah 29 and describes them this way:
"These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me"
(Mt. 15:8). It seems clear, then, that God isn't interested simply in
"obedience"; He wants LOVE, so loving God must mean something else...

The Heart
If I tell my son, "please clean the kitchen", and he does so, does that prove
that he loves me? If I tell my daughter to say "Thank You" when someone
pays her a compliment, does that prove that she is indeed thankful?

The obvious answer to both is "of course not." No, I want my son to
want to PLEASE his father by doing the things I ask; I want my daughter to
actually BE thankful when someone says something nice to her. The mere
ACT of cleaning, the mere WORDS "thank you", mean almost nothing to me
if their HEARTS are not in it... God isn't interested in mere "obedience",
He is interested in our hearts, and in our actually and truly and genuinely
LOVING Him, with our Hearts and Minds and Souls and Strengths...
In a word, COMPLETELY...

So how do we do THAT?

It's no overstatement to say that I (as do many Christians, I'm sure) ponder
this thought constantly. I came across these helpful thoughts recently
as I've investigated this issue (click the bolded text to view)...

While I think the writer still misses the point, I was struck by the exploration
of the Greek words for "Love" that are used in these verses admonishing us
to love God... I know next to nothing about Greek, but I am impacted by the use
of this word "AGAPAO" ("ah-guh-PAH-oh"), a verb which, in many of its uses,
means "to be totally consumed with"... We are to be "totally consumed with"
God Himself, a Real Person... But how?

"Make Him Lord of your life"... These and other Christian catch-phrases don't
quite do it, I'm afraid; when you truly LOVE someone, you don't need to erect
philosophical banners over your life reminding you of that fact; you just
genuinely and truly and sincerely LOVE, and it comes out of you -- spills out --
all over the place, more and more naturally as the relationship grows...

OK, so how can we be actually and sincerely "totally consumed" with God,
a Person whom we have never seen, never met (not really), never heard
speak (not really), nor smelled, nor touched, and even have some difficulty

Let's think on this for a bit,
and then go further in Part 2.