The month of June, as we know, is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Today, I ask the question: What does it mean to love God?
For the most part, many are inclined to think of love as a fond feeling of warmth and affection. We sing about it; we read about it; we watch it in movies and on TV. Love is a deep feeling that one person has for another. And quite clearly, not even God can demand that. How can we command the human heart to feel a certain way? So if we are going to better understand the business of loving God, we will have to start with something other than feeling.
It seems to me that the beginning point is awareness. We can teach ourselves to cultivate a consciousness of the presence of God. And most of us need to do that. We are surrounded every day that we live by the footprints and the handiwork of God; yet few of us ever teach ourselves to be aware of them.
There is a story from the Old Testament where Jacob was hiding from his brother, Esau. One night, out in the desert, he had a dream about a ladder that extended from earth to heaven, with angels climbing up it and coming down it. That dream did something to Jacob; and when he awoke, he made this significant statement, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not even know it.” He had become aware of the presence of God. You and I need to do the same thing.
Another factor in loving God, seems to me, is obedience. The relationship between God and us is Father and child. And if things are the way they ought to be, that kind of relationship presupposes obedience. Suppose you had a child who constantly tells you he loves you, but never did the things you told him to do. There would be something wrong with that kind of relationship; and very soon his expressions of love would mean nothing. You would much prefer for him to stop talking, and just do what you ask.
Jesus sees it the same way. He told His disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Without that, fond feelings and words of praise mean absolutely nothing.
But Jesus did not leave it at that. He also said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus knew that it is utterly impossible to have a real love for God without having a corresponding respect for self and love for others. The three are all tied up together. You can’t really love anyone or anything until and unless you love yourself. And neither can you really love God without loving other people.
The surest credential of Christian discipleship is a genuine love for other people. How can we walk with God without sharing His value system? And to God the most important thing in this world is people. How could we hold hands with God on one side and shake our fist at our neighbor on the other? How could we turn our face toward God when, at the same time, we deliberately turn our back on our brother? We would not play those games with our children, and neither will God.
It’s a package deal. We take it all or we don’t take it at all!