“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31 (NIV)
This is one of the most difficult post for me to write. There is so much to write and the more I write, I increasingly became fearful that I might go overboard and write an entire book based on this verse alone. As I write, I kept trying to put myself inside the shoes of my blog readers as I tried to elaborate what came to my mind regarding this verse. I wanted this post to be a spiritual post because of my faith, but at the same time I wanted it to be as relevant as possible so as not to alienate anyone who come across this blog, who perhaps did not share my faith. Having completed it, I certainly hope you enjoy reading it as much as I do writing it.
Do you find it funny that we are commanded to love? If love is indeed a feeling then how can we just “love” someone, let alone loving God? If love requires some kind of ‘spark’ or ‘electric jolt’ for it to happen, then how does this make sense at all? If love is something you “fall” into, how can you just “fell” for God? For that matter, is it even possible at all to just love an invisible God, a being you can’t see, nor hear, nor feel, nor talk with? It is a nearly impossible task already to love someone we can see, feel, touch, hear with all our heart and soul and mind. The above verse offer faint, if non-existent, hope in our ability to love a divine being that is, more often than not, felt so distant.
I must confess that I often underestimate the significance of this verse in my relationship with God and with others. Perhaps it may seem a little too easy to take one look at this verse and dismiss it as something that is an after-thought of the Bible authors, or something which bears no benefit to us if executed correctly. Or dismiss the verse as, instead, something that is deceivingly easy to obey. To this day, even though I have studied with all my might, I am still far from getting a clear answer. I wanted to understand this verse and obey it, to my best effort. However, I find myself coming short of the command in the verse each time.
Often I told myself, this is impossible. No one could possibly love anyone, or anything at all with all their heart, and soul, and mind and strength. It is way too hard to do. I likened this to telling someone with acrophobia to do a skydiving. Or forcing someone with arachnophobia to work in a field research with spiders. Or perhaps parents insisting that their child with hemophobia pursue a career as a surgeon. Sounds impossible? Apparently not to some. I have read at least one case of those with phobias overcoming their fear. In their cases, though, they have a good reason to. Perhaps, its much easier for a person to overcome their fear than for one to love a God that did not seem to give a good reason enough to. Or rather, it requires much less effort to overcome your fear than it does to love God with everything we have.
I balk at the aspect that the verse is not just a mere suggestion or some advice given from a wise sage to a young disciple. Rather than saying, “You should”, which in itself implied the command being an optional route to take in life as a Christian, Jesus carefully, but boldly declared “Love your God …”, and “Love your neighbour”. There is nothing optional about His statement here. It sounds to me more like an ending statement, a statement to end all arguments, a no-questions-asked direct order from a war general to all his subordinates. Jesus even went so far as to made a promise which made this even more significant than it already is. Luke recorded Jesus stating “Do this and you will live.” to the expert in law who made the enquiry. It is as if He is saying that only by doing this correct that you will truly live. That we aren’t truly living yet.
I have learned from experience that in order to gain something, we need to give up something. The more we want to gain, the more we need to give up. Life, as we all know it, is a series of sacrifices made by giving up something good in order to achieve something better. John Maxwell said fittingly, “You have to give up in order to go up.” Notice the striking pattern. We need to give up play time in order to do well in school. We give up our favourite, though heavily undersized shoe, so we could wear the right-sized shoe. We give up our rest time during college, in order to work to gain some extra pocket change. As I sat down pondering this truth, it came to me rather abruptly, what must I give up in order to gain love? A love so sincere, deep, so caring, a love willing to give everything in exchange for nothing. In fact, the love which sacrifice everything to gain something which was seemingly so unworthy. I struggle to find the right words to explain this love. Jesus himself modeled this so beautifully, giving away his life, and instead of receiving the honor and the reward He so deserve, He earned something worse. He was scorned, insulted, beaten to half-death, struck in His belly, painfully rejected, shamefully mocked, denied by the one He himself hinted as His future legacy, and deserted by those He personally picked, discipled, trusted and even loved. Was humans worthy of so much that He willingly went through all that on His own?
To further understand this verse, I tried dissecting this verse to each of its individual phrase so I can have a broader view of it. It is one of the methods I have often used when I met with a difficult verse.
Allow me to illustrate, beginning with the first part of the verse, with all your heart. Heart usually deals with a feeling, an emotion, something that does not require much thought to function. Could Jesus have meant that He wants us to love God, His father with the same intensity we would have as when we, say, loved our prized possession? In the 90s, it might have been our collection of cards, or our miniature toys. We keep it close to us all the time and seem inseparable from them, carrying them with us even as we get on our bed. In the 2000s, we might have the same, perhaps even stronger attachment to our handheld gadgets, like our iPhones. We heard from our surroundings, casual comments like being unable to live for a day without their mobile phone. Some even made an even bolder statement by saying, “My phone is my life, all aspects of my life centered around it.” I think about how God would have chuckled, even danced and rejoiced if we were to make the same statement about Him.
With all your soul. This is truthfully, the most challenging part of this command. Whatever did Jesus mean when He says to love with all my soul? The more I thought about it, the more I am left baffled. I can understand loving someone from the heart, but this? Furthermore, no hint or help is given to help me inch closer towards a proper understanding of it. However, as I read through the Gospel, I noticed the authors more or less speak about soul as if it is the life in itself. One noteworthy verse, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” highlighted the significance of our soul. Our soul is worth more than the world itself, by Jesus’ standard. We are to treasure our soul more than anything else. Could Jesus be saying that we ought to lose our soul to gain the love for God? It sounds plausible to me. After all, Matthew quoted Jesus as saying “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”
With all your mind. Our mind lives in our brain. It has been said that the brain is the most significant part of our entire body. It controls and supervises every single operation, every single cell, every single vein in our body with exact precision that it missed nothing. And it faithfully executed the same cycle over and over again without fail. I have always believed in the power of thoughts. All our thoughts, and our actions, began and is being controlled in our mind. It is the master computer which, if we get complete control over it, will provide us with great and amazing things we’ve never seen before. I believe that our thoughts, which began in our mind, eventually influence our words, which influences our actions, then our habits and ultimately, our destiny. Perhaps Jesus was saying, effectively, allow God to be the first in your thoughts. Let God to be the last in your thoughts. Open your mind to allow God to be in control of every single aspect of your mind.
With all your strength. This statement raises a question. How do you love someone with all your strength? Rather, can you love with strength? That is one of the most confounding questions I am faced with when studying this verse. However, when I think about it carefully, it seems to make sense. When we talk about strength, we talk about our energy. We talk about effort. When I rephrased the question, it sounds more sensible this way. How much effort are you willing to give to demonstrate your love? After all, I have found that love is action. Love is not all talks and love is not about empty promises either. It requires someone making a conscious and significant effort to show a perfect love. It might be exhausting and it may take time but a perfect love never gives up and never stops giving. Love is never just spoken. It is expressed with action, felt with action and experienced with effort. At times, a great effort may be required. One that might cost us our life.
I will always be amazed and grateful for how much Jesus so that I can gain the promised eternal life. In fact, when I look back at the verse, I discovered a startling truth. Jesus himself modeled the expected behaviour from this command. He willingly, though seemingly reluctant, gave Himself over to the Roman soldiers to be tortured beyond measure, and then cruelly crucified. He could, if He choose to, call up legions of angels to easily wipe out the entire Roman garrison and display to the world what a mistake they have made by rejecting their Messiah. Yet, because of His love and complete trust on His Father, He chose to go the hard way. In fact, His choice was always the hardest way. The crucifixion itself seem to me like a loud announcement, saying to anyone witnessing His death, “I love my neighbours THIS much to die for them.” Jesus became the embodiment of the Great Commandment. Jesus willingly gave up His status, albeit temporarily, His position, His throne to become like His creation and showed perfect love for God by going through the most terrible suffering any man has ever been subjected to. In fact, it is also for us, His “neighbours” while residing on earth, that Jesus accepted the greatest humiliation known to mankind.
After carefully observing and studying Jesus demonstrating His love throughout His lifetime, I became convinced that the command to love is not so impossible. I do not mean to say it is easy. It hardly is. No man in history, other than Jesus himself, have ever committed this verse to life perfectly. However, Jesus offered hope that though we are weak, and far from capable of committing this on our own, it is possible with Jesus by our side. It became apparent to me that many, if not all of Jesus’ command to us were impossible to achieve. It’s not like Jesus himself wasn’t aware of this fact when He gave these commands. It seems to me that it is precisely for that reason that Jesus did so. No one should ever rejoice that they have earned some brownie points with God by their own admission. You do not come to God by works. You come to Him by faith. Jesus had wanted us to completely depend on Him to be able to love God. We love God by accepting Jesus. When we accept Jesus, we accept God. When we look towards Jesus, we see God. When we rely on Jesus, we depend on God. Similarly, with our neighbours, we are only capable of loving them as ourselves through Jesus. It is quite simple, when you think about it. How do you do something that seems impossible? You learn from the one who has done it. In this case, it’s quite perfectly done too.
Discussion Questions: Look at the verse again, heart, soul, mind and strength. If someone were to ask you, do you ever love God with “partial love”? Do you love with your heart only? How well do you take the command, love your neighbour as yourself?