An 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
The first one of the two main commandments of Jesus is “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, but many well-intended believers are still wondering, how do I love God?
In many denominations, there seems to be an emphasis, first and foremost, on not offending God with a focus on avoidance of sins. It is a response more in line with the idea of the God of Moses than it is with the idea of the God of Jesus. Moses gave the Ten Commandments defining the “sins” to avoid and other compliances with the implication that whoever follows those commands would be serving God and be rewarded accordingly. But that is not what Jesus had in mind. Indeed, the God of Moses was a God of rewards and punishments. That is a God you fear rather than one you truly love.
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. All loving thoughts and actions offered with no strings attached are in harmony with the God of unconditional love. That is in keeping with what Jesus said, first to love God “with all our heart.”
We know that God is not a being, but rather the infinite invisible Spirit Itself. It means that all human beings are emanations of God as individual Souls living a material and mental experience for the assumed purpose to individually rediscover our spiritual nature and essence since we are “in the image and likeness” of God. It follows that when Jesus says to love God “with all our soul,” he requires first our recognition of God’s nature individualized as our own Soul, followed by our recognition that the same spiritual essence is present in all humans near and far. When we say that we love God but can’t honestly acknowledge the divine spiritual identity of all other humans, regardless of their appearances and actions, we are not true to ourselves.
Lastly, Jesus asks us to love God “with all our mind.” How does one love with the mind? That is a particularly legitimate question since it is rather traditional to oppose the activity of the mind to the activity of the heart or Soul. My sense is that Jesus wants us to use our mind to do what the mind does best, namely, to think as we ponder the nature of God, and to be an instrument of awareness for any revelation we might receive. Consequently, I believe that we are expected to think for ourselves to enhance our awareness of the nature of God and of what is godlike and what is not.
When thinking about God, rather than thinking about what God is, it might be easier at first to think about what God is not, such as jealous and angry. We need to think through any attribute that comes to mind in order to see if it is godlike or not, such as anthropomorphic attributes. With practice, we expand our vision of the nature of God and of our reasons to want to know more in order to love God better.
The second most important commandment of Jesus, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39) is related to the first one and reinforces the requirement of the first commandment: To love God “with our soul.” Jesus knew that it is not possible to humanly love any and all humans. The only way to comply with his second commandment is if we recognize and accept others’ true spiritual nature as Soul. This is possible only when we realize that, in Truth and Reality, all others are individual expressions of God’s nature, and that God gave lovingly of itself to all of us as our individual Soul. If we cannot also accept God’s 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.
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?”
The first step 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, and act accordingly. Acknowledging God means to embrace the meaning of Omnipresence, Omnipotence, and Omniscience—including its presence within our consciousness and within all others near and far.
Our acknowledgment should be heartfelt and not only directed at God, but also be a recognition of the individualization of God within each one of us as the Soul. It is important to do so as it helps break the conditioning we received that led to a false sense of separation from God. Jesus made it clear that “the Kingdom of God is within us” (Luke 17:21) and since God is in His Kingdom, God is necessarily within us.
In Luke 12:32, we are reassured that “It is the Father’s good pleasure to give us the Kingdom”—in other words, to give us of Itself. When we embrace this teaching, we no longer have any reason to fear God, but rather to nurture a relationship of love and trust with the Father within.
Conscious of our gratefulness for God, and conscious of our trust in God, we will want to 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 normal and a way to express our love, gratitude, and trust. Giving can include everything from paying attention and listening to others who struggle with their burden, to making financial contributions to those in need, either directly or through reputable charitable organizations. It can also mean anything from giving our time to God in quiet meditations and prayers to help our favorite church or other places of worship with volunteering and financial help.
The act of loving God cannot be limited in time and place. It needs to take place constantly at some level. It can be zoomed in and out like a camera lens moves from near to far objects. Our awareness of God should always be present at some level in our consciousness even if only on “stand-by” to make room for all the things we need to focus on during our many daily tasks as a breadwinner, as a caretaker, as a member of the family and of the community. Our focus on God and the love of God will be automatically zoomed in when needed, either for help in 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 to others goes a long way in any circumstance. An acknowledgment, a salutation, an appropriate smile is a good start that leads to being helpful when we can, and to avoid critical judgments of others.