God is God

Father, teach us something new, give us a new revelation of yourself.

Early when Sara and I started dating, she asked me, “Why do you love me?” And I paused. The gears in my head start turning, and you start thinking “this is a trick question…” and then she continues, “Will you still love me if I had a car crash and was disfigured? If I couldn’t move my body? What if I was a vegetable?” and now, I start panicking because I knew surely this is a trick question. If I name any one physical attribute of hers, I would be shallow. If it wasn’t physical, she wasn’t pretty enough. See, to me, it was a trick question, to Sara it was serious. She was assessing my credibility as a present boyfriend and future husband. There is an idea in her head of why she ought to be (deserves) loved and she is assessing if I meet that idea in her head. 

Why do I love?
One day, I thought about this and asked myself, “Why do I love God?” We all know the Greatest Commandment, “Love the Lord Your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” But why? Is there a difference between why I love God and why God deserves to be loved.

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
Mark 12:28-34

Jesus said: “The most important one is this: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord…” This is a scripture from Duet 6:4-6. So what is so special about this statement?

Shema Yisrael
This verse is the Jewish Shema (Yisrael).

  • The core prayer of the Jews, the most important part of their prayer service.
  • They recite it when preparing to read the Torah on festivals and feasts and on the most holy days.
  • It is the first thing that is taught to children, the pray that is said when they wake up and before they sleep.
  • They would recite it just before they die – the ultimate manifestation of faith in the gravest situations.
  • When they recite it, they mention each word very carefully and intentionally.
  • The first word Shema means listen/hear and do.

Shema Significance
The Shema is loaded with meaning and tells us much about God. It asserts that:

  • That the God we serve is Jehovah God – an infinite, eternal, perfect, self-existent and self-sufficient God.
    That God as such an all-powerful, big and mighty God! God is God, He is NOT:

    • God is not just a santa-claus and gives me gifts
    • God is not just a miracle doctor and heals me
    • God is not just a divine destiny planner and gives me a hope and future
    • He is not just a marriage counsellor and fixes my marriage up

    I’m not saying that He doesn’t promise these things or that He doesn’t want to give them to us. He does because His nature is good and loving. But He is still God. He retains the right to do as He pleases.

  • He is the only living and true God, only He is God and He alone – no other God.
    When you understand that God is ultimately powerful. There is no equal. There is only one Jehovah and He is God.
  • God is singular, He is one – Not a two faced God – Hindu. Not a number of Gods – Greeks/Taoist. Not an impersonal/neutral God – Buddha.
    • He is not good one day and evil the next or half-half, He is singular in nature; He does not change.
    • Even if the circumstance in my life changes, God does not. He is still good. He is still in control. If my illness doesn’t get healed, if death is knocking at my door, God is still God.

    Note that the word one (ehad) can mean unity in diversity, not unique singular one – yachid. E.g. Genesis2:24 – one flesh (basar echad).

So when a Jew says “the Lord our God, the Lord is one”, it is an extremely high view of God. He is fixing his whole being on the all-powerful, all-mighty, all-knowing, all-everything! When a Jew recites the Shema, he is a living witness testifying to the sovereignty of God / God’s kingship in every circumstance. No matter what our circumstance – our God is still the only one true God, and He is my God.

When they recite the Shema, their focus is not on what they can get from God, it’s about God. They take their eyes away from their circumstance and look at God who is God.

Tie back
So back to the question of why do we love God? I think we have something to learn from the original context of the Greatest Commandment in the Shema.

We love God because we have a high view of God’s being – God is God. And this huge all-powerful great God, humbled himself for us and has an intimate personal relationship with me! We can love God because of His being, not because of the circumstances in our lives. Not because one day God seems to be good and the next day bad. God deserves to be loved simply because He is God.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”
Its easy to love God when He is God.

“Love your neighbour as yourself”
How does this understanding affect our love for others? Well we love God for His being. We love others that way as well. I love my mother because she is my mother, not because she can cook well or help me look after my future children. I love my son because he is my son, not because he is obedient or does well in school. And that’s how God loves us! He loved us while we were still sinners! We can even love our enemies because right at the core of their being is still the image of God (not their nature)!

Thank you that you are God. That you are sovereign over everything. Sovereign over every circumstance. Thank you most of all that we can know you in an intimate and personal way. Thank you for showing us how to love and for loving us in that way, give us your heart that we can love as you love.

שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָה ׀ אֶחָד

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’There is no commandment greater than these.”

“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.
Mark 12:28-34

Jesus has entered Jerusalem in triumph (Mark 11:1-11). He has cursed a fig tree and caused it to wither (Mark 11:12-14; 19-25), cleared the temple (Mark 11:15-18) and was questioned by the major political and religious parties – the chief priests, teachers of the law and elders (Mark 11:27-Mark 12:12) , the Pharisees and Herodians (Mark 12:13-17) and the Sadducees (Mark 12:18-27). The crowd that ushered his grand entrance wanted a political Messiah that freed them from the Romans, the chief priests wanted to dispose of Jesus, the Pharisees and Herodians wanted to outwit and embarrass Him and the Sadducees wanted Jesus to support their doctrinal angle. None of them accepted Jesus for who He is but wanted something of Jesus for themselves.

They debated for many hours in the Temple courts about issues of the Law. It is at this time that an expert/teacher of the law, overheard the debating. He recognised the wisdom and authority that Jesus had in His answers and asked Jesus in earnest. He was after an honest answer, he was there to learn from Jesus. His question was, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

Everyone knows Jesus’ answer, or at least we know the two most important commandments. But whatever happened to the declaration of faith that precedes those commandments? Is that in fact part of the greatest commandment as well? What I am speaking about is the phrase: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.

Shema Yisrael

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.
Deuteronomy 6:4-6

Any Jewish person would be familiar with the Shema Yisrael (Deuteronomy 6:4). It is the first part of the Shema in liturgy (Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:13-21; Numbers 15:37-41), the core prayer of Judaism and the most important part of the prayer service. It is recited twice daily, in the morning and evening, and it is often the last words they say before going to bed. It is the first prayer taught to Jewish children and the last words before death. The Shema is read when preparing to read the Torah on the Sabbath and Festivals and it is recited at the end of the Holiest Days of Yom Kippur. This verse embodies the entire monotheistic essence of Judaism, it is their declaration of faith and the pledge of allegiance. The descriptions below give us a picture of the gravity of the words when they are recited by a Jewish person:

There are two larger-print letters in the first sentence (‘ayin ע and daleth ד) which, when combined, spell “עד”. In Hebrew this means “witness”. The idea thus conveyed is that through the recitation or proclamation of the Shema one is a living witness testifying to the truth of its message.
Shema Yisrael – Wikipedia

In 1945, Rabbi Eliezer Silver was sent to Europe to help reclaim Jewish children who had been hidden during the Holocaust with non-Jewish families. How was he able to discover the Jewish children? He would go to gatherings of children and loudly proclaim Shema Yisrael, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” Then he would look at the faces of the children for those with tears in their eyes, those children whose distant memory of being Jewish was their mothers putting them to bed each night and saying the Shema with them.
What is behind the most famous Jewish prayer? – Aish.com

In the prayer liturgy, special emphasis is given to verse 4 and verse 5. Verse 4 is recited first and after a pause, verse 5 is recited as a response in an undertone and then the rest of verse 6 to 9 are recited. The recitation / proclamation asserts of the oneness of God’s sovereignty. It asserts that God is good in life and in death (which is why they cover their eyes when they say it), and He gives the good and the bad – these are not opposing forces but from one and the same God. It symbolises the ultimate faith in the worst situations; that God is still sovereign over all, even to the grave. It is an immensely high view of God. God is God, period.

There are also specific instructions for reciting the Shema:

Immediately before reciting the Shema, concentrate on fulfilling the positive commandments of reciting the Shema every morning. It is important to enunciate each word clearly and not to run words together… Recite the first verse (Deuternomy 6:4) aloud, with the right hand covering the eyes, and concentrate intensely upon accepting God’s absolute sovereignty.
Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is One.
What is behind the most famous Jewish prayer? – Aish.com

The Shema wasn’t just about reading or reciting a verse. It is about intentionally testifying and living the truth of verse, witnessing that truth and meditating on it. It was about living under God’s singularity and sovereignty. It was life itself, a complete admission that God is God and I am not.

The Greatest Commandment

How does speaking about God’s sovereignty and God being God in verse 4 lead us to loving God in verse 5?

The more potent question is: Why do we love God? Why should we love Him with all we are and have? Is it because He first loved us or because He is God?

Jesus is worthy to be praised, adored, loved and worshipped simply because He is God. Goodness and love is part of His nature, but His being is still God. God deserves all that because He is God. Our love needs to operate from God’s being and not His nature, because times get rough and circumstances may change, but when we understand His being, we understand that He deserves our love with everything all the time. God isn’t being nasty or unloving, He is simply being God. His love, goodness and grace is His own to pour out and we are ever so grateful that He is loving, good and graceful, that He freely pours it out and He does not change.

The Kingdom of God

The teacher pondered on Jesus’ answer and agreed absolutely with Him. In fact, he added that these commandments are greater than even the burnt offerings and sacrifices. This is true – if the Jews could live out those two commands perfectly, there would be no need for burnt offerings and sacrifices to atone for their lack.

This teacher was saw the light. He saw and realised that something special was in Jesus. It wasn’t just knowledge and understanding, it was divine authority. Unlike the others who were trying to trip Jesus up, he didn’t have a rebuttal for Jesus. He didn’t debate on the issue. He thought it through carefully and found truth in Jesus’ words. If he accepts this truth, then the testimony Jesus speaks of Himself is truth as well.

Jesus commanded this man for his wise answer and said “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” While the opposition stumbled on the stumbling block, this teacher of the law built on the cornerstone. This man was not far from accepting God’s reign and rule when He accepted Jesus’ answer.