Thinking about what I’ve learned so far in my life as a Christian, one of the things I’ve come back to again and again is the summation of the law in Deuteronomy 6:5 which Jesus reiterates as the first part of the greatest commandment (Matt 22:37 and Luke 10:27): love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your strength (interestingly the NT adds ‘with all your mind’). I guess there are a whole host of ways to interpret this passage and live it out, but at the most basic level, it says that living God’s way is a whole-life response, not just a particular part of us. We don’t just have a ‘religious bit’ to let out on a lead once in a while. Rather, we’re to be formed throughout by God’s priorities.
But from another angle, the call to love God with heart, soul, mind and strength is, I think, a warning against putting all our spiritual eggs in one basket. This is a real temptation for all of us – because of who we are and the complex mixture of our personalities and life experiences, we all tend to emphasis one aspect over another. A particular temptation for me, and a number of my friends, is to over-emphasise the intellectual aspect of faith. I’m not at all saying that this is unimportant – we’re called to use all our critical faculties to understand and pursue God. But feeding the rational/cognitive side of our being at the expense of other aspects can lead to problems. On several occasions, someone I know who has invested very heavily in the cognitive aspects of knowing God has found that when they have run into a particular intellectual problem, there has been very little else to fall back on. The same is equally true for over-emphasis of heart or will – when a feeling of closeness to God is lost (as happens to most people from time to time) this can be scary or challenging, particularly if there is little else in the way of other framework of attachment to God to fall back on. It’s not possible (because we’re fallible human beings, but also more positively because we are unique, with distinctive sets of personal attributes) to be firing equally on all cylinders – heart, mind, soul and strength. This is one hard lesson of humility that I’ve increasingly had to learn in my own life! But nor, equally, should loving God with heart, mind, soul and strength a matter of watering each down to the level of the lowest. We still strain for perfection each one, and I’m conscious, in writing those words, of how far I fall short, and grateful that it’s not just about my own efforts. (But that’s a subject for another post…). However, for our part at least, seeking to cultivate a love of God in each of those four areas of our being, does, I think, provide us with a bit more flexibility of faith to ride out the inevitable challenges that life throws at us.