Tuesday 3 March 2015

The stumbling block of loving God above all else

The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord:
And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.

Mark 12:29-30

This was a stumbling block to me as a child at a Christian school. Not only did I not love God more than my family, I did not want to love God more than my family - and I felt it was wrong to love God more than my family. I can distinctly remember thinking this during a prayer when I was about six years old, and mentally denying the doctrine.

Even now, I think it is quite wrong to highlight this teaching, and try and compel young children to assent to this doctrine of loving God more than anything - because many of the best of children will usually interpret the command as that they are supposed to feel more love for God than for their parent, grandparents or siblings - and in practise this could only be achieved by loving their family less.

Furthermore, the doctrine - in the mind of a child - can easily become one of terror rather than love: fear of reprisals from God from failing to love him enough.


Indeed, this first and greatest commandment is a subtle teaching - and not one to be taken in isolation. It is perhaps a thing which needs to be true indirectly and implicitly; rather than made a matter of explicit and specific assent.

For many or most people, including children, the love of God can not - in this mortal life - be as direct and straightforward a matter as love of actual people. Attempting to force the issue, by trying to think about God as much as possible, praying as much as possible, repeating words about loving God as much as possible are all strategies that can easily 'backfire'.

Yet, of course, this is essential to Christian life. So what is the answer?

1. To regard the first commandment as a part of theosis or spiritual progress, something towards which we strive throughout life; rather than a basic essential requirement for all Christians.

2. To regard God our Heavenly Father as a person, as our actual Father, whose primary and always-present characteristic is love. This makes Him easier to love and may reduce the chance of mistakenly regarding Him as a tyrant.

3. To focus on our love for the person of Jesus Christ, rather than God the Father - this is stated to be sufficient according to scripture. It is, of course, the mainstream strategy of 'evangelical' Christians - who focus almost exclusively on the New Testament, especially the Gospels. This is reasonable, since Christ is the essential focus of Christianity - while God the Father is not.

So, it seems not absolutely necessary for any one of us to attend to God the Father in daily life; His vital role is to explain the nature and mission of Jesus Christ.


Furthermore, love is not best considered as a feeling, it is not necessarily something at the forefront of consciousness. For many people, their deepest love is something which structures their life, rather than being at the front of our conscious deliberations for most of the time. Some (I am one of them) are very expressive of love - but this is not a necessity; and some very loving cultures and families and marriages do not go in for statements, hugs or tears.


My understanding of the absolute necessity of loving God above all else is metaphysical rather than psychological - that without this, all other loves (including the love of Jesus) lose their meaning and function.

The supremacy of our love for God is that it makes all other loves possible - it makes other loves a matter of eternal significance.


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