I have long believed that loving God is a deep mystical experience – something which might be occasioned by a splashing sunset or reflection on the wonder of the cross. Loving God, in this sense, would then be our heartfelt response to God for all the blessings which he has lavished on us as his children – not least in answer to our prayers.
But this isn’t how Jesus defines ‘loving God.’
When he sums up the law as loving the Lord your God ‘with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’ he immediately links it with loving others.
“To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” (Mark 12:33)
In John chapters 14 and 15 Jesus says that if you truly want to express love for him then you should show it by loving ‘one another’ (John 15:12). If we do this, says Jesus, then the Father, Son and Holy Spirit will make their home in our hearts (John 14:15-18, 21).
Loving God, then, cannot happen unless other people are on the receiving end of our love for God. We cannot love God in a vacuum. Loving God in solitude and isolation from the communities in which he has placed us results in self-love.
If my next door neighbour, as well as my brothers and sisters in Christ, do not benefit from my love for God then I do not truly love God. In fact I can only truly love God if I direct this love towards other people.
This makes good sense. For what would the expression ‘God is love’ mean if his love was not directed at humanity?
We can only say that ‘God is love’ because we have been on the receiving end of his love! Otherwise the expression is empty and meaningless.
Do you love God?
If you actively seek to bless the person sitting next to you now – or your work colleagues, or school friends, or the local taxi driver who comes to pick you up, or your Muslim or Hindu neighbours, or the person who has recently been spiteful towards you – then the answer might just be Yes!