The breadth of God’s love
by Glen Doss, Major –
Do I like myself?
For much of my adult life, an honest answer to this question would have been: “No, I don’t! I really don’t like myself at all. In fact, I think I detest myself!” Yet, when at age 39 I opened up my heart to God, an amazing thing happened: I began to really like myself. It was baby steps at first, of course; but the more I grew to like myself, another amazing thing occurred: the more I grew to like others, also.
You see, I had been a man without God in his life; and, when this is the case, one will inevitably—albeit subliminally—place oneself upon this lofty pedestal. Completely oblivious of it, the godless people of the world go about worshipping themselves, looking continually after their own interests first (or, by extension, those of their immediate circle). Their prominent motto rings out loud and clear: “Look out for number 1!” Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra made hits of a song with the chorus line: “I did it my way!” While such a point of view may look good superficially, when the time arrives (and it inevitably does) that these people let themselves down badly and their mortal gods, i.e., themselves, lie toppled upon the ground, they, too, begin to despair, despising themselves!
I wonder if many Christians might be described as nominal—in name only—and may be practicing such self-deification. Fully unaware of it, they, too, sometimes seem to worship themselves…just as they did before they accepted Christ. Not yet convinced they are vulnerable, they wear their false strength like a badge of honor, still saluting #1! Sooner or later, such people also will fall into despair!
When Christ was asked what is the greatest commandment of all, as recorded in Mark 12:28-31, he said it is to love God with all that you are—all your heart, all your mind, all your soul, and all your strength. Then he volunteered to tell his questioners what the second greatest commandment is: to love your neighbor as yourself.
Note that Christ wasn’t asked what is the second greatest commandment; he volunteered to express it—it’s as if the two simply go together; yet the first comes before the second. I conclude from this that if one doesn’t love God with all of one’s being, then one cannot truly love oneself, and if one does not truly love oneself, one cannot really love other people. God does not want people to detest others as they detest themselves—he wants us to love one another! To do this, we must first love ourselves. The measure of our love for God is the degree to which we love ourselves and others.
I am convinced that this love of self and others starts with and springs from loving God in return for his demonstrated great love for us. In 1 John 4:19 the apostle writes: “We love because he first loved us.” If I am to love myself and others, then I must first accept God’s personal love for me. As I do so, I begin to see myself as valuable; after all I must be very precious to be so prized by the great Creator himself! And if I am valuable, what about all these others whom he loves just as dearly?
In his book, No Man is an Island, Thomas Merton explains that if we are to love others as God loves them, we must first love him “who understands them from the depths of their own being.” Otherwise, he adds, “We know them only by the surmises that are formed within the mirror of our own soul. If we are angry, we will think them always angry. If we are afraid, we will think them alternately cowardly or cruel” (pp. 167-168).
There is an enormous distance between the mental acceptance that God loves us and the true experience of that love! The deep acceptance of the truth of God’s love is an awareness that involves one’s whole being—heart, soul, mind and strength. For we are told: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all of your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Part of the meaning of the Incarnation—of God becoming a man—is that he took onto himself all that comprises a human being—blood vessels, muscles, tendons, lungs, stomach, sexuality, etc. Consequently, he endured the full range of our experiences: physical pain, anxiety, disappointment, joy, dread—and yet loved each one of us deeply through it all.
In fact, it was his immense love for us that drove him in the first place. And we are obliged to return the favor, to love him through all the mortal accoutrements that comprise the human that each one of us is. To love God this way is to finally realize throughout the depths of our being that he so deeply loves us! Loves us enough to go through a far greater torture than we can ever imagine—the Passion of the Christ—just because he loves us!