Here’s what I mean.
The great command is “to love the Lord Your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” Forgive me for sounding like a five-year-old, and believe me, I mean no disrespect, but I have to ask…why? Not why love God as if He didn’t deserve it, as if I’m out to slander Him and call Him unlovable or something. Just…why? If the first great commandment was to play ping pong three times a week with the best opponent we could find, I suppose it would be more natural to ask…why? And if the answer came back, “It’s for your own good,” I suppose we’d have to go hunt down the nearest version of Forrest Gump and go at it, because God is God, so they say.
The command to love has always struck me as strange. I know it’s the culture seeping in, but love seems like the very last thing I would demand of my children. Behind a demand for love lies what seems to be an essentially selfish stance. “See what I’ve done for you? Love me for it.” But I thought love was to offer the self without expectation of return. At least that was the mantra Dad always followed and sold us. “See all I’ve done for you? Love me for it.” That phrase always has an edge in it as I hear it. I know it’s not right, but I get the low camera angle perspective that has God looming over the people of Israel, having just delivered the latest miraculous save, reminding them in no uncertain terms that their appropriate response is love, damn it. (Why does that remind me of the way men have been treating women forever?)
Why would God call this the great commandment, the first of His demands? The standard answer, and it right on target, is that love is the very nature of who we are. Love of God is what we were created for, and so to live without loving Him is to violate our very nature, the image of God in us, our very creatureliness. Okay, I can buy that, but, again the five-year-old in me isn’t quite satisfied. I ask…why? Why would God create these beings whose core is about loving Him? Did God’s love-o-meter go off, saying He was a bit low? Whoops…my tank of love is getting empty, better fill it up with some creatures I can command to love me. Ahhhhhh…that’s better.
The correct response is “who knows?” We don’t get to know these things, we’re human, he’s God, blah, blah…yeah, I get that. We don’t get to know. But we live and respond to life and to the God behind it as we do–we think, we grow, we struggle, we ask questions, we worship, we love, we get up to face the day…and there’s the command to love.
And what about the second commandment, the one like the first. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” God, the great champion of the oppressed, commands us to love them. Why? Do they deserve it? Will it erase their problems? Will it right the world? The voice of God thunders back, “Because I said so!” That’s of course because we are the children, unable to understand the why of the simplest of commands, His God-ness being so far beyond us.
This strikes the atheist as wacky, and I can see what they mean. I think there’s a way out of it, but I’ve never heard it preached the way it’s landing in my head and heart these days. In fact, I’ve been having conversations off and on about this for several years now, and it always strikes me as the only answer.
What if all God’s commands are like the command about the Sabbath? Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Sabbath was made for us. Is is too radical to think that God’s rest was so delightful and so filled with good that He wants that for us?
What would it mean if the Great Commandment was made for us, and not us for the Great Commandment? What if love of God is entrance to life, because life is made of the love of God, as if God’s love is the essential building block of space and time and energy at the quantum level, and that to try to live outside that love is to remove yourself from very life, and the very horror and danger of a life lived that way is enough to put an edge in any parent’s voice. What if love as Jesus lived it and as Paul described it is the substance of things, the substance of which life is made, a life which was made for us, a life wherein we could participate in a community of love so (beyonds words, here) eternal, so infinite in power and good, so rich and awesome (I wish I could re-weight that word), that God, in His love and life, could think of nothing better than to create more of it, create a dynamic universe of undying possibilities growing from the very substance of His being…love.
If God is love, how can this not be?