Seeking Balance in the Christian Pendulum

By love may God be gotten and holden, by thought never.
– The Cloud of Unknowing

There really is no more central a concept or message to Christianity than Love. So much so that Scripture finally culminates with the revelation in 1 John 4.16, “God is Love.” But today, the word “love” has become almost void of real meaning from so many various levels of meaning being pushed into it. Love is romance. Love is desire. Love is an emotional impulse. Love is an obligatory term for family. Love is brief excitement. Love is nostalgia. Love is sex. Love is fascination. Love is obsession. And so on.

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.
– Jesus, Matthew 22.37-40

For the past few months, this simplification of faith given by Jesus has been on my mind a lot.

For the majority of my life until my mid-twenties, I had known a Christianity that identified far more with the “Love God Commandment.” We often looked down on people who we deemed as not loving God or not loving the real God or not loving God the right way. It was a clear-cut, somewhat comfortable faith, but ultimately very pious and Pharisaical way of living.

The eventual crisis point of that side of Christianity came as a result of paying little attention to Jesus’ connecting the Love God Commandment to the Love Neighbors Commandment when he says that the second is like the first. The Greek word that we’ve translated to “like” is Homoios, which means: like, similar to, resembling, of equal rank. Christianity has also largely ignored the third Love in these two commandments: as yourself. It is a compass for how to love neighbors which is like loving God.

When we love God without loving our neighbors or ourselves, we worship an idea of God that is incorrect and doomed.

Concepts create idols of God, whom only wonder and awe can teach us anything.
– Gregory of Nyssa, 6th century

I remember thinking years ago, “If my faith leads to less relationship in my life, it’s wrong.” Not because faith is a popularity contest, but because I should be loving my neighbors/enemies/friends/family more, rather than creating distance.

Now, since my mid-twenties (a decade ago), I’ve found myself swinging to the other side of the Christian pendulum, knowing a Christianity that identifies far more with the Love Neighbors Commandment. It is so needed and important and has brought much healing and depth into my life. If I am honest though, I still find a lacking.

There is a lack of sincere love for God on the other side of the pendulum. I realize it has largely to do with the bad taste in our mouths from the pious side of the pendulum, but the crisis point of this side of Christianity is that we end up using Christ’s Love Neighbor Commandment as a way to make us feel better about ourselves. We subconsciously distort loving our neighbor as ourselves (divine unity) into loving our neighbor for ourselves (objectification). It makes us feel better than the other side of the pendulum, which has hurt us. It makes us feel loved, appreciated, and valued by others. It makes us feel relevant in a time when Christianity seems far from it. We often attempt the appearance of love with the ambition of being admired.

That doesn’t only apply to Christians, it is a human condition. We want to be loving and accepting so that we will be loved and accepted, but we inadvertently allow our identities to dissolve. We grow a mile wide and an inch deep. We lack character, personal identity, and the magnificent depths of True Love. Nearly everyone is doing it without knowing or acknowledging it (even the other side of the pendulum, only in a theological manner). But as followers of Jesus, who modeled True faith, hope, and Love, which resulted in his unpopularity and murder, we need to pay more attention to our Teacher.

The importance of loving God with our whole hearts, our whole souls, and our whole minds is that it frees us from a self-centered distortion of true Love. It delivers us from worshiping an idealized version of ourselves or our lives and centers us on Love/Christ, in all and through all. Living in Love, in all and through all, allows us to see life as it really is rather than clamoring for how we’d like or expect to see it. When we lose sight of this, we begin acting out of an idea of who we could or should be and stop living in the freedom of who we are.

We need to wholly love God, our neighbors, and ourselves, not merely because it is a commandment, but because of the reason it is a commandment: it is good for us. If God is Love and we are all created in the image of God, then we are Love. So wherever we leave love out of the equation in our lives (ourselves, our neighbors, our enemies, or God), we leave a part of ourselves out of the equation. We divide and contradict our very selves, creating damage and brokenness.

Jesus points us to wholeness, that we may have life and life more abundantly, for his yoke is easy and his burden is light. Learning to follow Jesus in fully loving God, our neighbors, and ourselves is not easy, but once we get over mental and emotional conditions, fully loving God, our neighbors, and ourselves is easy. There is nothing more natural. Every moment of every day, I sincerely want and seek to remind myself of this revelation of Reality.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.
– Jesus, Matthew 22.37-40