This is part 2, “V’ahavta” (“And you shall love”), in this little series on Christians and political responsibility through the lens of Jesus’ great command statement from Mark 12. He begins by mentioning the Shema, which was the topic of my last post. After the Shema, Jesus says “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” Disclaimer: I say almost nothing about political responsibility in this post, but if you take away all your heart, soul, and strength, your political philosophy is going wherever those went. It is not separate from you, and this part of the v’ahavta is about you.
Even at the end of this series, the point will not be about different American political parties. The point is the kingdom and what political responsibility looks like there. If we can find that out, we can see how it might look here under our circumstances to pursue justice by just means.
Background on what loving with the heart, soul, and strength
I’m claiming common knowledge on this part because you can find this information on just about any website devoted to a traditional understanding of Judaism.
To love God with all your heart, what does this mean? Don’t be divided in your heart. Love him with both your godly inclination and your evil inclination. Don’t keep back part of your heart. I’m being convicted as I type this that I probably need to post something I wrote called “Serving God with Your Evil Inclination,” which might shed some light on this idea. Until then, in short, it suffices to say it means we should be wholehearted.
Next, to love God with all your soul, what does this mean? To love God with all your nephesh is to be willing to lay down your life. Pretty extreme. People are called on to do that all the time in literal life-or-death circumstances. It’s worth preparing to face that situation.
How might one prepare? Be faithful in the little things so that he can make you faithful in the greatest things. I don’t remember who said it, but someone commented that we ought not be so sure we would serve God in times of severe persecution if we are not serving him now. When God wants X and I want Y, I can practice laying my will aside for his will. I can do that with the smallest choices of my life. It’s such a bummer to think about how often I fail to do that with the smallest choices of my life, but I’m aware of it, and he’s faithful to finish the work he started in me.
And last, to love God with all one’s strength, what might this mean? In a practical sense, share. Give charity. Seek ye first the kingdom of God. Use the property and resources God gives you to be like your Father in Heaven who gives and goes the distance and blesses and lends and cares for the life of every living thing. Store up treasure in heaven by giving things away and meeting needs so that people glorify God for his goodness.
Here’s my simple paraphrase of what Jesus is saying: be all in.
“All of you” includes your interactions with other people. If political behavior is part of you, and it is, then it is part of you that can be involved in loving God. I said it would be a long route to get to the end of the v’ahavta, which is more directly politically relevant, so I’m not saying more in this post on the political question. There’s too many other observations I want to make while we’re in this first part of the v’ahavta.
I think it was John Bevere who said, “Your idol is whatever you have to consult before you say yes to God.”
Feeling utterly inadequate yet when examining your life against these lines of the great command? If so, keep reading. There’s something encouraging about this command.
And you shall love
Now, I don’t know Hebrew grammar, so I am relying on the translators here. There’s something odd about the way the command is phrased. The 1917 JPS Tanakh is supposedly quite literal in its rendering, and it uses “shall love.” Young’s literal says, “thou hast loved.” Here’s a list of translations. My Invitation to Biblical Hebrew isn’t helping me with more information about Qal stem verbs in the perfect aspect, which is what Blue Letter Bible says about the verb if you click “parse.” The perfect, though, is something completed. It doesn’t have to be in the past, so I think of imperfect as “open” and perfect as “closed,” but it’s best to consult a linguist on it.
Nevertheless, at least until I learn otherwise, and on the strength of the JPS and no shortage of other translations, this reads to me like a promise. And it reads like a promise that is closed, a done deal, if you will. Let me explain:
What’s going to become of you if you continue to walk with God? You’re going to love him with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. You were made for love like this, and he’s freeing you to be transformed into this kind of heroic, selfless lover.
But wait! There’s more!
As if having a promise like that weren’t enough, here’s one of the most amazing things about the whole V’ahavta. Follow me for sec:
- The commandments are connection points with the nature of God, invitations that let you experience him.
- We were made in the image of God.
- The V’ahavta describes our ideal character as it relates to love.
- Our love, when it aligns with God, reflects his love.
The v’ahavta, then, is a kind of mirror we can use to get some idea of the quality of love God has for us.
Does God love you? Does he care at all? How can we know? We can know just by reading the v’ahavta.
Why would he ask us to love him with all our hearts?
At our best, we are like him, and he loves us with all his heart. He doesn’t give his heart in “Pieces.” There is no part of his heart that he withholds from you.
Why would he ask us to love him with all our souls?
He loves us with all his soul–and proved it by sending his son to lay down his life for us.
Why would he ask us to love him with all our resources?
He created the heavens and the earth, the dry land and waters, the trees and plants, the fish and birds, and all the animals–everything, everything, everything is for us–and after he made this world for us, he left us with dinner–forever.
What a wild, reckless love.