The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.
(“Nature Boy”, Nat King Cole)
To love and be loved. Finding your soul mate. Marrying your sweetheart. For the cynics and romantics alike – let’s face it – love is huge. Putting aside every other care and fancy that arises in the course of life, there is a cry in every human heart for love. Some kind of love.
Admittedly, pop culture and certain philosophies may have shaped the answers we search for in response to this strange desire in our hearts into a largely romantic, fuzzy feelings love – the proof is in our media content.
But even through the ages, people have loved love and wrestled with it as much as they have with issues of morality and meaning. And here’s something that recently dawned on me as I read the Scriptures. God, before any other law He put forth to His people, is a God of love.
“Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:5)
The very first and greatest commandment (Luke 10:27) from the Almighty Creator of Heaven and Earth – all-powerful, all-present – was essentially this: Love me.
Imagine that. Not fear me; or worship me; or sacrifice to me. Love me – a sentiment you and I would easily recognise within ourselves as human beings. I think about God sitting across from me, someone who barely gives Him the time of day when the demands of life kick in, and the first thing He says isn’t “don’t do this” or “do more of that”. It’s just “love me with all you’ve got”.
And while we were still wondering why, He reached out and loved us first, to the greatest degree – by sacrificing Himself to free us from the yoke of our wrongdoing and hopelessness in this fallen world (John 3:16).
What breaks my heart further when I realise how much He wants to be close to me is that it isn’t selfish or even necessary to begin with. The way humanity tends to understand the concept of any god is a deity who reigns over mortals for one reason or another and has the power to do supernatural things.
And if this deity was anything like humanity, it would simply lord its power over people. Want good things to happen to you? Do good things first. Make me happy with your sacrifices. Worship my image in fear and trembling.
I mean, why would you need love if you’ve already got power?
Many other faiths share the tenets of humanitarian goodness: Love the people around you, be kind, look after the poor. But has any other deity or figure of religious authority asked to be loved – and made that of utmost importance?
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” (Matthew 22:36-39)
It’s easy to relegate God to an authoritarian position, the God of the “Thou Shalt Nots” – and if this is how we relate to Him, loving Him is near impossible. But God didn’t create us so that He could have an army of robots who were programmed or arm-twisted into making Him feel important.
He created us for relationship with Him. Think of the closest and most loving relationship you have – that’s what He wants to have with us. With you.
But unlike human relationships of mutual imperfection, God is also holy – pure and perfect – as much as He is loving. His laws exist to show us His standard of holiness, and we find grace and eternal relationship with Him through the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ, who paid the price for our inability to ever reach that standard.
So yes, God has standards – do’s and do not’s – He is after all, God. But as A.W. Tozer puts it, He is also a person, which means He, like each of us, can be known and loved. And instead of obeying His laws because we are terrified of His power, He put loving Him on top of that list of do’s and do not’s so that everything we do and do not comes from that place of loving relationship.
Love me, God says, because this is the secret to life. I will show you how to live. I will make you a better person. And I will pour into your heart a love so immense that it will bind up your brokenness, tear down every curse spoken over you and reveal who you were truly made to be.
Love me, because I love you. I have always loved you.
From now till the end of February 2018, we are giving away a pack of limited edition Thir.st “Greater Love” Stickers in exchange for every story on God-shaped love. Send us your stories here.
You can also follow our #LoveLikeThis Valentine’s Day playlist on Spotify.
If you’d like to invite Jesus into your heart, here’s a simple prayer you can say. We encourage you to find a church to root yourself in so that you can experience and enjoy the full Christian life. Please feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org as we’d love to help you kickstart your journey of freedom in Christ.