Loving God Completely, Ourselves
Correctly, and Others Compassionately
As a communion of three persons, God is a relational being. He originates a personal
relationship with us, and our high and holy calling is to respond to his loving
initiatives. By loving God completely, we discover who and whose we are as
we come to see ourselves as God sees us. In this way, we become secure enough
to become others-centered rather than self-centered, and this enables us to
become givers rather than grabbers.
Since God is a relational being, we who are created in his image are also called to right
relationships, first with him and then with each other. This chapter considers the causeless,
measureless, and ceaseless love of God and the fitting response of loving God completely.
We move in this direction by knowing him more clearly, loving him more dearly, and following
him more nearly.
An enhanced appreciation for the greatness and glory of God
A greater sense of the dilemma of our dignity and depravity
A better grasp of God's causeless, measureless, and ceaseless love
An understanding of what it means to love God with our minds, wills, and emotions
WHAT IS MAN, THAT YOU TAKE THOUGHT OF HIM?
The God of the Bible is infinite, personal, and triune. Becasue God is a communion
of three persons, one of his purposes in creating us is to display the glory of
his being and attributes to intelligent moral creatures who are capable of responding
to his relational initiatives. In spite of human rebellion and sin against the person and
character of the Lord, Christ bore the awesome price of our guilt and inaugurated "a
new and living way" (Hebrews 10:20) by which the barrier to personal relationship
with God has been overcome. Because the infinite and personal God loves us, he
wants us to grow in an intimate relationship with him; this is the purpose for which we
were created-to know, love, enjoy, and honor the triune Lord of all creation.
Because God is a relational being, the two great commandments of loving him and
expressing this love for him by loving others are also intensely relational. We were created
for fellowship and intimacy not only with God but also with each other. The relational
implications of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity are profound. Since we were
created in God's image and likeness, we too are relational beings. The better we know
God, the better we know ourselves. Augustine's prayer for this double knowledge
("May we know thee, may we know ourselves") reflects the truth that our union with
Christ is overcoming the alienation with God, with ourselves, and with others that
occurred at the Fall.
Our Greatness and Smallness
Human nature is a web of contradictions. We are at once the grandeur and degradation
of the created order; we bear the image of God, but we are ensnared in trespasses
and sins. We are capable of harnessing the forces of nature but unable to rule
our tongue; we are the most wonderful and creative beings on this planet but the most
violent, cruel, and contemptible of earth's inhabitants.
In his Pensées, Blaise Pascal described the dignity and puniness of humanity:
"Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature; but he is a thinking reed. The entire
universe need not arm itself to crush him. A vapour, a drop of water, suffices to kill him.
But, if the universe were to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which
killed him, because he knows that he dies and the advantage which the universe has
over him; the universe knows nothing of this."
The Glory of God
Psalm 8 explores these twin themes, sandwiching them between expressions of the
majesty of the Creator of all biological and spiritual life: "O Lord, our Lord, how majestic
is Your name in all the earth" (vv. 1a, 9). The living God has displayed his splendor
above the heavens, and he has ordained praise from the heavenly host to the
mouth of infants and nursing babes (vv. 1b-2). When, after our Lord's triumphal entry
into Jerusalem, the children cried out in the temple, "Hosanna to the Son of David,"
the chief priests and the scribes became indignant, and Jesus quoted this passage to
them (Matthew 21:15-16). The children's simple confession of trusting love was
enough to silence the scorn of his adversaries and "make the enemy and the revengeful
cease" (Psalm 8:2b).
In Psalm 8:3-4, David's meditation passes from the testimony of children to the
eloquence of the cosmos: "When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which You have ordained; what is man that You take thought
of him? And the son of man that You care for him?" From the time David wrote those
words until the invention of the telescope in the early seventeenth century, only a few
thousand stars were visible to the unaided eye, and the universe appeared far less
impressive than we now know it to be. Even until the second decade of the twentieth
century, it was thought that the Milky Way galaxy was synonymous with the universe.
This alone would be awesome in its scope, since our spiral galaxy contains more than
200,000,000,000 stars and extends to a diameter of 100,000 light years (remember that
a light second is more than 186,000 miles; the 93,000,000 miles between the sun and
the earth is 8 light minutes). But more recent developments in astronomy have
revealed that our galaxy is a member of a local cluster of about 20 galaxies and that
this local cluster is but one member of a massive supercluster of thousands of galaxies.
So many of these superclusters are known to exist that the number of galaxies is
estimated at more than 100,000,000,000.
What is humanity, indeed! The God who created these stars and calls them all by
name (Isaiah 40:26) is unimaginably awesome; his wisdom, beauty, power, and dominion
are beyond human comprehension. And yet he has deigned to seek intimacy with
the people on this puny planet and has given them great dignity and destiny: "Yet You
have made him a little lower than God, and You crown him with glory and majesty!"
(Psalm 8:5). These words are applicable to all people, but they find their ultimate fulfillment
in Jesus Christ, as the quotation of this passage in Hebrews 2:6-8 makes clear.
We were made to rule over the works of God's hands (Psalm 8:6-8), but we forfeited
this dominion in the devastation of the Fall ("but now we do not yet see all things
subjected to him" [Hebrews 2:8b]). However, all things will be subjected under the feet
of Christ when he returns (1 Corinthians 15:24-28), and we will live and reign with
him (Romans 5:17; 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 5:10; 20:6).
As wonderful as our dominion over nature will be, our true cause of rejoicing
should be in the fact that if we have placed our trust in Jesus Christ, our names are
recorded in heaven (Luke 10:20). "What is man that You take thought of him? And the
son of man that You care for him?" The infinite Ruler of all creation takes thought of
us and cares for us, and he has proved it by the indescribable gift of his Son (2 Corinthians
9:15; 1 John 4:9-10). In the words of C. S. Lewis, glory means "good report with
God, acceptance by God, response, acknowledgment, and welcome into the heart of
things. The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last." Let
us exult in hope of the glory of God!
GOD'S LOVE FOR US
We have seen that the love of God is the wellspring of biblical faith and hope.
Consider these truths about the love of God from Paul's epistle to the Romans. In the
book of nature, God reveals his eternal power and divine nature (1:20), and in the
book of human conscience, he reveals our imperfection and guilt (2:14-16). But only
in the book of Scripture does God reveal his limitless love that can overcome our guilt
and transform us into new creatures in Christ. God's loyal love for us is causeless (5:6),
measureless (5:7-8), and ceaseless (5:9-11). Nothing in us merited or evoked his love;
indeed, Christ died for us when we were his ungodly enemies. God's love is spontaneous
and unending-he loved us because he chose to love us, and if we have
responded to Christ's offer of forgiveness and relationship with him, nothing can separate
us from that love or diminish it (8:35-39). This means that we are secure in the
Lord's unconditional love; since we belong to Christ, nothing we do can cause God to
love us more, and nothing we do can cause God to love us less.
For people who have experienced pain and rejection caused by performance-based
acceptance and conditional love, this description seems too good to be true. Isn't there
something we must do to merit God's favor or earn his acceptance? If we are afraid others
would reject us if they knew what we are like inside, what of the holy and perfect
Lord of all creation? The Elizabethan poet George Herbert (1593-1633) captured this
stinging sense of unworthiness in his superb personification of the love of God:
Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back, Conscious of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in, Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning, If I lacked anything.
"A guest," I answered, "worthy to be here."
Love said, "You shall be he."
"I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear, I cannot look on thee."
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply, "Who made the eyes but I?"
"Truth, Lord, but I have marred them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve."
"And know you not," says Love, "who bore the blame?"
"My dear, then I will serve."
"You must sit down," says Love, "and taste my meat."
So I did sit and eat.
Beyond all human faith, beyond all earthbound hope, the eternal God of love has
reached down to us and, in the ultimate act of sacrifice, purchased us and made us his
How do we respond to such love? All too often, these revealed truths seem so
remote and unreal that they do not grip our minds, emotions, and wills. We may sing
about the love of God in worship services and learn about it in Bible classes but miss
its radical implications for our lives. Spiritual truth eludes us when we limit it to the
conceptual realm and fail to internalize it. We dilute it through cultural, emotional,
and theological filters and reduce it to a mental construct that we affirm more out of
orthodoxy than out of profound personal conviction. How do we move in the direction
of loving God completely?
LOVING GOD COMPLETELY
In the last two years, I have adapted and used this prayer by St. Richard of
Chichester (1197-1253) in my own quiet times before the Lord: "Thanks be to thee, O
Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits which thou hast given us; for all the pains and
insults which thou hast borne for us. O most merciful Redeemer, Friend, and Brother,
may we know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly;
for thine own sake."
Loving God completely involves our whole personality-our intellect, emotion,
and will. "And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your
soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength" (Mark 12:30). The better we
come to know God ("may we know thee more clearly"), the more we will love him
("love thee more dearly"). And the more we love him, the greater our willingness to
trust and obey him in the things he calls us to do ("follow thee more nearly").
May We Know Thee More Clearly
The great prayers in Ephesians 1 and 3, Philippians 1, and Colossians 1 reveal that
Paul's deepest desire for his readers was that they grow in the knowledge of Jesus Christ.
The knowledge the apostle had in mind was not merely propositional but personal. He
prayed that the Lord would give them a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge
of him, that the eyes of their hearts would be enlightened, and that they would know
the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 1:17-18; 3:19).
The occupational hazard of theologians is to become so engrossed in the development
of systematic models of understanding that God becomes an abstract intellectual
formulation they discuss and write about instead of a living person they love
on bended knees. In the deepest sense, Christianity is not a religion but a relationship
that is born out of the trinitarian love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
When Thomas Aquinas was pressed by his secretary, Reginald of Piperno, to
explain why he stopped working on his uncompleted Summa Theologica, he said, "All
that I have written seems like straw compared to what has now been revealed to me."