The greatest commandment, according to Jesus, is to love God (see Deuteronomy 6 and Luke 11). Assuming we’re straight on the whole “who is God?” issue, I think it could be helpful to consider what love is and how we can actually direct this toward the God of the universe. I also can’t help but wonder if love is something that we are capable of doing in degrees (think: dimmer switch) or if it’s more binary (conventional light switch)…? You see, when it comes to loving God, maybe the issue is not a matter of loving him “better” (dimmer switch all the way up), but rather, a matter of loving him more consistently and pervasively.
I think we’re all aware of the fact that the New Testament was originally written in Greek and the Greek language has more than one word for love. The one Greek word used most commonly to refer to our love for God and neighbor is agapaō and it has a host of meanings. For instance, Thayer’s lexicon says that when used in reference to a master (I’m guessing we’re all OK with the idea of God as our master…), agapaō “involves the idea of affectionate reverence, prompt obedience, grateful recognition of benefits received.” I’d like to suggest that these three phrases are on some level, interconnected.
“affectionate reverence” is not the same as plain old “reverence.” It suggests a personal dimension, that there’s been some sort of interaction that makes this reverence more than simply the acknowledgement of superiority. This is more than an imposed reverence, but an emotional desire to honor someone. Curious stuff. Emotional affection isn’t something I typically associate with the notion of revering someone.
“prompt obedience” is not what we 21st century Americans normally associate with love, at least not consciously. The “affectionate” idea mentioned above is very much linked to common understandings of love – maybe it is the understanding of “love.” But suggesting that love is defined by our willingness to obey is almost certainly not what we think of when we think of “love.” Oh, and toss in the idea that this obedience is “prompt” and it feels more like military school than love.
“grateful recognition of benefits received” is the most easily recognizable notion, as much of our love is grounded in the sense that our lives are better because of the object of our love. Heck, this is even how we’ve come to say we love pizza – our lives are better because pizza is in it. On the more serious side, this reminds me of the famous text in 1 John 4.19, “We love because he first loved us.” There is a reciprocal dimension to love.