by Julie Zine Coleman @JulieZColeman
At the moment Bill caught his first glimpse of my friend Beth, he was a goner. On their second date, the young Air Force officer made an early declaration: he loved her. But rather than the response for which he hoped, Beth merely rolled her eyes. “You don’t even know my middle name,” she told him. “You can’t love someone you don’t know.”
Jesus identified the greatest commandment as “You shall love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” (Luke 10:27) All your heart? How’s that one coming along in your life?
Western thought identifies the heart as the seat of our emotions. So the idea of loving God with all my heart has always challenged me: how am I to be consistent in feeling that strength of emotion, even one so appropriate as loving God? At the risk of sounding judgmental (which I do not intend) I am always uncomfortable when I am in a worship service where people seem to be intent on working themselves into a frenzy in an effort to love God. It seems so…contrived. More for the lover than the One being loved. At least it would be for me.
But recently I read something that helps me make sense of this command. In Hebrew thought, the heart (levav) was considered the seat of the intellect. Very often, the word heart meant “mind and thoughts.” Solomon is said to have “largeness of heart” (literal translation) in 1 Kings 4, which translators have interpreted as “breadth of understanding.” To the Hebrew, heart and thoughts were intrinsically entwined.
We in the west often separate the emotions and the intellect. I’ve even heard people caution that we don’t make the Bible our “idol.” Intellectual study is given a back seat in deference to worship and prayer, things which better help us “experience” God. But in Jesus’ time, study was considered the highest form of worship.
Studying the Scriptures is the way we get to know God. He’s revealed what we need to know in its pages. And the better we know him, the more our thoughts are occupied by him. Knowing God is the key to loving God. Romans 12:2 tells us to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. As we “feed” our minds with thoughts/information about God, we provide fodder for God’s transformative work within us.
I’m happy to report, Bill did in the end get the girl. They’ve been happily married for over three decades and raised a beautiful family. But Bill, that passionate young guy who so quickly declared his love, would tell you now that the more he got to know pretty little Beth, the deeper his love did grow. What he feels for her now doesn’t hold a candle to what he felt back in the 80’s. The more he knows, the better and more completely he loves.
To know God is to love him. With all your heart.
…so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:17-19 NASB
About the author: Julie Coleman helps others to understand and know an unexpected God. A popular conference and retreat speaker, she holds an M.A. in biblical studies. Her award-winning book, Unexpected Love: God’s Heart Revealed through Jesus’ Conversations with Women, was published in 2013 by Thomas Nelson. Julie is the managing editor for Arise Daily. When she is not glaring at her computer, she spends time with her grandchildren, gardening, or walking her neurotic dog. More on Julie can be found at unexpectedgod.com and Facebook.
Join the conversation: What helps you to grow in your love for God?