Loving God: Emotion and Obedience

In this post, my topic will be loving God, and I’ll be drawing from my daily quiet times in Deuteronomy 6.

In Deuteronomy 6:5, Moses instructs the Israelites to love the LORD their God with all their hearts, with all their souls, and with all their might.  What is loving God?  There are some who believe that love for God is an emotion.  You see in Pentecostal, charismatic, and a number of evangelical circles an emotional and sentimental love for God, as those particular Christians feel a deep affection for God on account of God’s love for them.  By contrast, my religious background—-by which I mean the religion in which I was raised—-tended to scoff at religious emotionalism and sentimentalism, preferring a business-like approach to God.  My impression was that it equated loving God with obedience to God’s commands (a la, to cite one verse of Scripture, II John 1:6).  How do you love God?  You obey God’s commandments!  Or so I was told.

Which is right?  I’d say that they both are, to a certain extent.  I seriously doubt that the authors of the Bible wanted for our love for God to lack any emotional component or affection for God whatsoever, for Deuteronomy 6:5 instructs the Israelites to love God with their entire hearts and minds.  Moreover, you see a lot of enthusiasm in the Book of Psalms about God’s good deeds for Israel.  You see admiration for God’s attributes.  But, on the other hand, obeying God’s commands is also important, for one way that you can show that you appreciate God’s attributes of love and forgiveness is to love and to forgive others, as well as to cultivate your relationship with God by worshiping God only, by avoiding idols, by setting aside time to spend with God, and by honoring God’s name.  Obedience to God’s commands is a concrete way that you can show your love to God.

Of course, one problem today is that many people try to have one without the other.  You have some people who have a deep emotional affection for God, yet their lives are not particularly godly: they are unkind and impatient towards others, they commit adultery, etc.  I can think back to times when I was on a religious high, and yet I wasn’t particularly kind to others.  That kind of invalidates my religious high, doesn’t it?  Or at least it convicts me that I should bring my affection towards God into the realm of real life, as I allow it to saturate how I regard and treat others!  On the other hand, it’s also possible for one to mechanically obey God’s commands, without a deep affection for God, and it’s hard for me to call that loving God.  I once heard a sermon in which the preacher asked, “How would you married men feel if your wife told you that she’d cook and clean, but that she did not love you?”  The preacher was talking about the church of Ephesus in Revelation 2:1-7, which was doing a lot of commendable deeds, yet it had forgotten its first love.  In my opinion, I should try to combine an emotional affection for God with obedience towards God’s commands.

At the same time, I don’t want to judge others.  There are Christians who enjoy nitpicking others over whether or not they are emotional enough in their worship of God.  And there are Christians who chastise those who are introverts because the introverts supposedly do not obey God’s command to “love” other people.  But it’s important to remember that people are different.  Some may not be inclined to cry and lift up their hands in worship and to talk about the Lord all the time, for they prefer a quiet appreciation of God and God’s attributes.  Some may not be bubbly and social and yet they help people in other ways, ways that may be invisible to others.  In my opinion, how people love God is between them and God, not them, God, and judgmental Christian busy-bodies.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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