Hugh Bates on faithfulness

 

‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind.’

Jesus answered the lawyer’s question with what is, in effect, the Israelite creed. Whatever else the good Jew does or does not do, he will recite the Shema three times a day, on rising, at noon, and before going to bed. It is not a system but a relationship, a way of life, the ground of his faith. But how does it work? What does it mean in practice to love him, her or it?

The best dictionary-type definition of God is St Anselm’s. ‘God is the greater than which cannot be thought,’ or God is whoever or whatever has the last word, the one where the buck stops. You can only have one ultimate ‘greater than which,’ otherwise it would not be ultimate.

This ‘greater than which’ is the same God who, in the Hebrew Bible, entered into a covenant with Abraham, rescued Israel from Egypt, made them a people and gave them his law. In the New Testament, this same God is known as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is that one whom we are to love with all our heart, soul and mind.

For practical purposes, such a love means, amongst other things, absolute faithfulness, The model is that of the faithful spouse or partner. The opposite is infidelity. When God wanted people to know what it often feels like to be God, he ordered the prophet Hosea to marry Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim – the Linda Lovelace of eighth century bc Samaria. We are invited to understand the pain of disappointment and unrequited love at the heart of God.

This is a situation up with which neither God nor Hosea is going to put. Love conquers all. One way or another, Israel (or Gomer) will be won back to her first love. ‘You made me love you.’ There is only one God and you shall have no other, served for Hosea and Israel then, as it still serves for us now.

We have not initiated that love; we are responding to it, as the Church the Bride of Christ. Loving the Lord your God is like the joyful and wholehearted response of the bride to the bridegroom. ‘Forsaking all other, keep thee only unto him, so long as ye both shall live,’ as the marriage service puts it. In Ephesians, ‘It is all a great mystery,’ but the writer takes it to refer to Christ and the Church.

You are to love the Lord your God with your whole being, heart, strength, soul and mind. Deeper than any feeling and emotion, however fine, delightful or noble, love is rooted in the will – the will to belong. ‘For better, for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health’ – in life, and in death too, for that matter!

This is what God expects of his people, of his Israel, of the Church his Bride. The honeymoon is all very well, but taking the longer view, more than a little over-rated by comparison with the golden or diamond wedding – and beyond! God is faithful to his covenant and his promise. We can do no less than show a like faithfulness.

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