February 28, 2023
How to love God is a question that many well-intended believers are wondering about. Fortunately, Jesus told us how to love God with the first of his two main commandments. He said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37). It clearly suggests that loving God requires our entire being.
Do We Fear God or Do We Love God?
In many denominations, loving God means to make sure we do not offend God. First and foremost the motivation is to avoid the wrath of God. It is in reaction to the God of Moses whose anger is frequently expressed in the Old Testament. Moses gave the Ten Commandments that defined ‘sins,’ and he added other compliances. Whoever followed Moses’ commands would expect rewards for serving God. The God of Moses was a God of rewards and punishments. That is a God you fear rather than one you love. But Jesus had a different idea of God.
The God of Jesus is one of unconditional love and forgiveness. In fact, since God is the ultimate love, it is safe to say that God loves loving. Therefore all loving thoughts and actions offered with no strings attached are in harmony with the God of Jesus. That is why Jesus said first to love God “with all our heart.”
Because We Are In the Image and Likeness of God
God is not a being, but rather the infinite invisible Spirit Itself. All human beings are issued of God as individual souls. We are an emanation of the divine. In essence we are “in the image and likeness” of God. Our individual spiritual identity is latent and not expressed in most people. It is awaiting self recognition.
We are living a human material and mental experience. The purpose of our human experience is to individually rediscover our spiritual nature. When Jesus said to love God “with all our soul” he had a requirement. He wanted us to recognize our soul as our spiritual self—an individualized expression of God’s spiritual nature. It should naturally lead us to recognize that the same spiritual essence is present in all other humans.
When we say that we love God but can’t acknowledge the divine spiritual identity of others, we are not true to ourselves. This requirement applies regardless of the appearance and actions of those we encounter. There can be no discrimination.
Ponder the Nature of God
Lastly, Jesus asks us to love God “with all our mind.” How does one love with the mind? That is a legitimate question since we often oppose the activity of the mind to the activity of the heart. My sense is that Jesus wants us to use our mind to do what it does best, namely to think. It is useful to ponder the nature of God, and of God’s creation. The mind is also an instrument of awareness for any revelation we might receive. Consequently, I believe that we are expected to think for ourselves. We need to enhance our awareness of what is godlike and what is not.
When thinking about God, rather than thinking about what God is, it is easier at first to think about what God is not. For example we should know that God is never jealous or angry. We need to think through any attribute that comes to mind and decide if it is godlike or not. Human attributes are not of God. With practice, we expand our vision of the nature of God. That gives us reasons to know more in order to love God better.
What is Meant by Loving our Neighbors as Ourselves?The second most important commandment of Jesus is, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39). It is related to the first commandment and reinforces the requirement, to love God “with our soul.” Jesus knew that it can be very difficult to love other humans such as our neighbors. This human tendency makes it difficult to comply with his commandment. The only way we could comply is when we accept others’ spiritual nature.
For that to happen, we need to realize that, in spiritual truth and reality, all others are individual expressions of God’s nature. That is possible because God lovingly gave of Itself to all of us as our individual soul. If we cannot accept God’s latent presence in others, we are not honoring Jesus’s requirement. Expressing our love only to God and not to others would contradict our otherwise good intentions.
How to Go About Loving God?
It is clear that the two major commandments of Jesus are quite demanding and intimidating. As a result, one might still ask: “How do I go about loving God?”
I believe that the first step in loving God is an acknowledgment: “Stand still and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10). But it is not simply when we are quiet because in Psalm 3:6, we are told, “In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” In other words, at all times, we should have a part of our consciousness acknowledging God and its creation. Acknowledging God means to embrace the meaning of three important attributes of God: Omnipresence—always present everywhere; Omnipotence—the one and only power; Omniscience—all knowledge.
Our acknowledgment of God’s nature and attributes should be heartfelt but not only directed at God. It must also be a recognition of the individualization of God within each one of us as the soul. This recognition is important because it helps remove a critical false belief. Our religious conditioning has made us believe that humans are separated from God. We know that it is false because of what Jesus told us. He declared that, “the Kingdom of God is within us” (Luke 17:21). Since God is in His Kingdom, God is necessarily within us as well. Let’s recognize and embrace this fundamental truth.
We are reassured when we learn in Luke 12:32 that, “It is the Father’s good pleasure to give us the Kingdom.” Let’s understand this as a gift of God of its own Self to each one of us. When we embrace this teaching, we no longer have any reason to fear God. Instead we prefer to nurture a relationship of love and trust with ‘the Father within.’
Express Your Gratefulness for God
When we are conscious of our trust in God, our gratefulness for God grows. When our confidence in God grows, we will more easily give of ourselves and of our supply for the ones in need. When we have the confidence that God provides “our daily manna,” sharing becomes a way to express our love, gratitude, and trust. Giving can start with paying attention and listening to others—particularly those who struggle with their burden. It might include making financial contributions to those in need. Financial donations can be either directly or through reputable charitable organizations.
Let’s not forget volunteering and making donations to help our favorite church or other places of worship. Giving can also mean dedicating time to God in quiet meditations and prayers.
Be Kind to Others
The act of loving God cannot be limited in time and place. Our awareness of God should always be present at some level in our consciousness. This activity can be zoomed in and out like a camera lens moves from near to far objects. It can be on “stand-by” to make room for all the things we need to focus on during our daily tasks. Whether as a breadwinner, as a caretaker, our as a member of the family and of the community, we should be mindful of Omnipresence. Our focus on God and the love of God will automatically be zoomed-in when needed. Be it for help in addressing challenging situations or during our moments of quiet prayers.
Anyone genuinely interested in following the instructions of Jesus can start with making a concerted effort to be kind to others. Civility goes a long way in any circumstance. An acknowledgment, a salutation, or an appropriate smile is a good start that leads to being helpful and cooperative. And mostly, we must avoid critical judgments of others.
Extract from the essay of the same name from the recently published book, Religion, Politics, and Reclaiming the Soul of Christianity: A Spiritual Imperative for Our Time and Our Nation, by Jon Canas.
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