One God, one Love
This study looks at the personal and contemporary challenge of Deuteronomy 6:4,5.
ONE GOD, ONE LOVE
Copyright © Rosemary Bardsley 2004
'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' [Deuteronomy 6:4,5].
We live in an age of information. Computers are constantly being upgraded to store and process ever-increasing amounts of information. Scientists are constantly discovering more and more information in their respective fields of research. They tell us, for instance, that even microscopic single-celled bacteria store incredible amounts of information in their DNA.
But once we start thinking of information we are also thinking of communication. Information communicates. Importantly, information communicates both identity and role or purpose.
Here in Deuteronomy 6:4,5 two points of information are communicated:
- who and what God is, and
- our role, purpose and responsibility as human beings.
As we dig deeply into their meaning we realise that we are here confronted with the two most important bits of information in the universe.
1] The LORD our God, the LORD is one (Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one).
Whenever we see 'the LORD' in our English Bibles, written in capitals, it translates Jahweh (Jehovah) which is related to the Hebrew verb to be. This takes us back to Exodus 3:14 where God, having been asked by Moses to identify himself, responded: 'I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: "I AM has sent me to you."' When God says his name is I AM he is telling us:
- that he is living and personal. He is not an inanimate force or power, nor is he a god like the idols; he is a person who has a personal name, with whom one can enter a personal relationship.
- that he is eternal. He has always existed, and always will exist. There was never a time when he was not there. There never will be a time when he will not be there. He is eternally present. He is eternally I AM. He is, in Francis Schaeffer's words, 'the God who is there'.
- that he is absolute. His existence does not depend on anything else. Because he existed before anything else existed he is neither dependent on, conditioned by, or relative to, anything or anyone else. He is complete in himself. In fact all else is dependent on him. Everything else can exist only because he exists.
It is this God whose name is the LORD, who calls himself I AM WHO I AM, who also claims to be one. (Deuteronomy 6:4). He alone is God. There is no other. He is the only God. There is no other who is living and personal. There is no other who is eternal. There is no other who is absolute. There is no other from whom all else exists, and on whom all else depends. He is one. Unique. Unrepeatable. One of a kind. This complete otherness of God is part of what the Bible means when it calls God holy. We cannot compare him with anything, and say 'he is like this or that' because there is nothing and no one else like him. He is holy. Totally other. Totally set apart. Totally separate.
For this reason Isaiah, addressing people who had left off honouring God and were embracing idols, wrote very strongly.
Study the verses listed in the table below. Write out what they say.
So unique, so absolute, is this God whose name is I AM that he demands that he and he alone is to be honoured or worshipped as God. Write out these verses:
Yet when we come to the New Testament we find that Jesus Christ claims that we must believe in him, that the same honour is due to him as is due to God. We are told that we must acknowledge him as Lord. We find those who surround the throne of God giving to Jesus Christ the same honour and glory and praise as is given to God.
Write out these verses:
Has God changed? Is he now willing to share his glory with another? Or is there some additional information that communicates truth not previously evident?
We know that God does not change (Malachi 3:6). We know he will not give his glory to another (Isaiah 42:8). So there must be some additional information.
It is this: that this God, who is living and personal, who is eternal, who is absolute, who is one, is also the God who speaks. He communicates. He makes himself known: firstly in his act of creation; secondly in his act of revelation; thirdly in his act of incarnation.
Write out these verses:
2 Peter 1:20,21
Such is the perversity of our human hearts that we suppress, distort, corrupt and rebel against God's self-communication in creation and revelation (Romans 1:19-25; John 5:39-47; 2Peter 3:16). In our sinfulness we do not want to know this personal, eternal, absolute, unique God on whom we are utterly dependent. We prefer to kid ourselves that we exist in and of ourselves, that we are dependent on no one and responsible to no one. We put in God's place all manner of 'gods' that we construct or imagine. We even pretend that we are worshipping 'the LORD' when we are really worshipping our own perception of God, a god we can live with on our own terms, a god we can manipulate.
Into this situation of the loss of the knowledge of the true God, God comes in incarnation. In this act in which he takes our flesh, in which he lives within time and space, God makes his final and ultimate statement. No one has ever seen God, but here we see him (John12:45; 14:7-11). All that God is, is here revealed in Jesus Christ, the Word:
That same eternity in which he is always there - 'in the beginning was the Word ... and the Word was God' (John 1:1);
That same absoluteness, on which all else is dependent - 'through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life' (John 1:3,4a);
That same uniqueness - 'we have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only' (John 1:14);
That same self-revealing communication - 'no one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known' (John 1:18).
Over and above all of this, encompassing it all, giving it all acute urgency, is this: that here, in Jesus Christ, the Word, we see again, unquestionably, that God is personal. The Word, this ultimate self-revelation of God, comes as a person, a person who can be received or rejected, a person with a name, in which name we can either believe or disbelieve:
'He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God' (John 1:12).
It is here that we are confronted with the content of the second bit of information communicated in Deuteronomy 6:4 and 5, in which our role, purpose and responsibility as human beings is identified.
2] Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
Two things are specified here:
2.1 The God we have to love. It is the God whose name is 'the LORD': the same God who came to us in incarnation: Jesus Christ. What one is, the other is. They are in fact one (John 10:30). This knowledge of who and what God is outlaws all allegiance to any gods we have made with our hands or our imaginations, and to any corruptions of or reductions of the one God that we might choose to substitute for him. The LORD our God is Jesus Christ.
2.2 How much we have to love him. What do 'all your heart', 'all your soul' and 'all your strength' mean? There are two possibilities: either 'heart', 'soul' and 'strength' all have significant, specific meanings, or, by the reference to 'heart', 'soul' and 'strength' we understand 'every part of us'. This verse is never quoted in the New Testament 'as is'. Instead, the word 'mind' is substituted for 'strength' (Matthew 22:37) or added (Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27).This seemingly inaccurate quotation of the verse is not inaccurate if we understand that what God is saying is that every part of our being is to be involved in loving him. Whether my heart, my soul, my strength or my mind, or anything else that is in me: I am here told that, in my entirety, my role, purpose and responsibility is to love the God whose name is 'the LORD', and who also is called 'Jesus Christ'.
Let us also note that these words are, in addition, saying that all or the whole of every part of my being is to love God. Not only am I to love him with all that I am, but I am to love him to the utmost with all that I am. There is not one part of one part of me that is not to be involved in loving him.
What then does God mean when he commands us to love him?
- Does he mean emotion? Yes. For feelings are part of me.
- Does he mean commitment and decision? Yes. For my will is part of me.
- Does he mean action? Yes. For my body, my strength, is part of me.
- Does he mean relationship? Yes. For my soul is part of me.
- Does he mean attitude and knowledge? Yes. For my mind is part of me.
Loving Jesus Christ is being wholly for him, rather than being for myself. It is being content to depend on him rather than on myself. It means that I receive everything as from his hand: I no longer can pretend that I have earned or merited anything by and of myself. It means that I no longer need to preserve and justify myself, for I trust in him, not in myself. It means that I rejoice in him, not in myself.
It is clear that, though we stand face to face with God as he comes to us in Jesus Christ, we do not stand face to face as equals. Here our God, Jesus Christ, stands, loving us. Here we stand, loving him. But it is not a mutual or equal love. He loved us when we were still rejecting him. He loved us when our sins were nailing him to the cross. He loves us with a perfect love, all the while knowing that our love will never be perfect. His love comes from the very essence or nature of his being, sharing that nature: eternal, absolute, unique. Our love can never be more than dependent on his: created and drawn out by his, sustained by his, reflecting his.
It is in this act of trust in which we love him that we find fulfilment. It is only here that we can be all that we were created and saved to be.
For your meditation:
- In what ways does Deuteronomy 6:4,5 challenge you to refine your understanding of God?
- In what ways do these verses challenge you to a more comprehensive love for God?