I am a physician. As such, I have been privileged to be with many who are approaching the end of life, and listened to the wisdom expressed in those precious final days. Through those shared moments, it has become all too apparent that life’s meaning comes from relationships. In reflecting on our lives during the last days of our time on earth, the most joyful memories and most painful regrets have to do with our relationships.
This brings forth the questions of what we are supposed to do with our brief lives, and how we can best achieve those goals.
To approach such soul stirring questions, it seems wise to look to our scriptural guidance for answers.
At the time of Jesus, it was common to challenge those who commented on the teachings of Moses with various probing questions. In this vein, Jesus was once asked which scriptural Commandment was the greatest.
He responded, “You shall 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: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Note that He was asked to give one commandment, but responded with two. Both refer to relationships. The first is about our relationship with God, and the second is about our relationship with other people.
Let us analyze the wording carefully. Jesus says that we are to love God with all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind, and all of our strength. If heart is seen as referring to that part of us which is emotional, and soul as that which is our unique spirituality, and mind is our mental functioning, and strength is our physical body, then we see a prescription for emotional, spiritual, mental and physical devotion to God. This introduces the concept of Shalom.
Many are familiar with the Hebrew word “shalom”, which is commonly translated as meaning “peace.” Yet, the true meaning of Shalom goes far beyond this. In the Bible, shalom refers to an inward sense of completeness or wholeness. A Bible concordance would include the following meanings: completeness, wholeness, health, peace, tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest, harmony, and the absence of agitation or discord.
Recognizing that God is complete, perfect, and whole, this first commandment seems to be a call to grow toward Him through loving Him with the totality of our being: emotional, spiritual, mental, and physical. While fully achieving this during our human lives may not be possible, we are directed by Divine commandment to continually strive to grow as far as we can in those directions.
This proves to be for our betterment, for compared to that which the Godless life offers, we can say:
- The world may give us temporary satisfactions. Yet only through God can we find lasting fulfillment.
- The world may give us a lot of happiness. Yet only through God can we find joy.
- The world may give us times of pleasant rest. Yet only through God can we find peace.
- This world may give us some great years. Yet only God can promise eternal life.
In turning to the second commandment mentioned by Jesus, we note that the two commandments are given in a necessary order. Unfortunately, it must be admitted that many people are difficult to love. This includes not only those who are violent, cruel, sociopathic, and predatory, but also those who are simply of a different cultural or ideological orientation than what we feel is best.
While we can grow in our love of them through efforts born of human compassion, we can do far better if we focus on loving God first. It will follow that it is much easier to love others when we are growing in love toward God, and changing our hearts to open up toward those He cares about. This includes all of the world’s peoples, as Jesus makes clear in His teachings.
The conclusion of these two commandments can be seen as a directive for what we are to do with our lives:
- Grow closer to God through loving Him with all of our being.
- Showing our love for God by making the world a kinder place through loving others as we would like to be loved. This includes striving to draw others towards Him, as that is the kindest thing we can do.