With All Our Divided Hearts

“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,” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The two great commandments. 

Jesus did not invent these two commands: they come from Deuteronomy and Leviticus.[1] In Deuteronomy, God through Moses commands the people to love God with all your heart, soul, and might. Mark doesn’t get this exactly right, and tells us to love God with “heart, soul, mind, and strength,” rather than “heart, soul, and might.” Mark has heart and soul but adds mind. 

Originally, “heart, soul and mind” referred to the same thing. They were not to be understood as distinct inner qualities. Rather it was just an emphatic way of saying that we need to love God with our entire inner life. In common thought today, mind and heart are often seen as distinctly different aspects of our inner lives. The heart is typically associated with emotions and feelings, while the mind relates to intellect. In the world of the ancient Hebrews, this distinction is not drawn so clearly. The heart was simply the inner world and included both feeling and thought. Sometimes we create problems for ourselves by sharply differentiating thought from feeling. The ancient way of seeing things was more integrated. 

While originally Deuteronomy’s heart, soul, and might likely simply meant the totality of one’s inner life, in some later interpretations a different sort of interpretation developed. I am particularly drawn to a passage from the Mishnah, which is an early collection of reflections, debates, and thoughts from the earliest Rabbi’s. It was probably written somewhere around 200 CE. It was later used by yet later Rabbi’s as a source text for the formation of the Talmud(s). 

To love God with all your heart, the ancient Rabbi’s wrote that this means: “With all your heart—[this means] with both of your inclinations, with the good inclination and with the evil inclination.”[2]

The Rabbi’s believed we have rival impulses within us. We have an impulse towards the good, but we also have an impulse towards selfishness and bad. Carl Jung, the founder of analytical psychology, said we all have a shadow within. Within us, hides aspects of ourselves that are hidden from view – our own view as well as others. Every positive characteristic we might have also holds a potential for harm. 

Shadows are cast when light hits an object that stops the light – and within our hearts we have many things that keep the light from shining. 

While things might be a little more complex than a simple light side and a dark side, I think the Rabbi’s might be on to something in thinking we have an impulse towards good, and another impulse towards bad. To love God with all your heart for the rabbis in the Mishnah, cannot mean to only love God with the good part of your heart – because that would not be your whole heart. If we have an impulse towards evil within our hearts, we must love God with that as well as the good part of our heart. This is a truly bizarre, yet intriguing idea. 

Sometimes we think God is only interested with the best we have within us. We save it up, and bring it out when we pray, when we worship together, when we do “good things.” But what about the other parts of ourselves and our lives? So often we take those parts of ourselves we do not like and hide them away. We hide them from our neighbours so they will not think badly of us, and we even hide them from ourselves – so we will not think badly about ourselves. 

What would it mean to love God with the evil inclination? It almost sound like a contradiction. Yet, I see it as an invitation to invite God into those aspects of ourselves that we do not like… that we keep hidden away. God is interested in the whole of our lives – not just those bits we think of as good. 

We limit our relationship with God when we only invite God into the “nice” parts. The only way to move towards integration is to embrace the shadow side within ourselves, and a great way to move towards doing this is to let God into those areas of our lives. 

To love God with the whole of our hearts, then, is not so much to love God intensely, but rather completely. It is to acknowledge those aspect of our inner lives that we might be inclined to hide. But to hide this from God is a fool’s errand. 

God knows you completely and deeply, and God also loves you completely and deeply, and we should love God completely and deeply – with everything that is within us. 

To love God is to walk in the love that God has for you. Our love for God is the natural by-product of God’s love for us. Or in the words of 1 John, “We love because he first loved us.”[3]

But because of those dark bits of our lives – because of the shadows within – secrets we carry sometimes consciously, and other times unconsciously – we can feel that we are unlovable. 

And our shadow side can lead us to feel unattractive. But to God you have always been loved and lovable – and you have always been attractive. God loves you – the real you that you hide away – the beautiful you – the “ugly” you – that’s the one God loves. 

You just might find out that the things you hide away thinking they are ugly are precious in God’s sight – and that there is beauty even there. 

For those who have learned the transformative mystery of God’s love for us, there is a challenge – to spread the love around.[4] To love God with the whole of your heart, but then to hate your neighbour, is to deny love its right to grow into the world. It is to keep the love of God as if it were only for you. But to love your neighbour as yourself is to let the love of God become full and complete. 

Who is your neighbour? Who is the one we are called to love? Sometimes we can be more attracted to the idea of people than to actual people. The word “neighbour” refers to one who is close to you.[5] That person next to you is your neighbour whether you know them or not – whether you like them or not – whether you agree with them or not – whether they like or love you or not. The actual person in front of you right here and right now – that is the neighbour of which this passage speaks. The internet has brought many neighbours into our lives – in a way unprecedented in history. The whole planet is now our neighbour. 

What does it mean to love your neighbour as yourself? For starters, it means that you acknowledge that they, like you, are an entire world. They are good and they are bad – just like you. They are the rising sun and the setting moon. The value of all that is wonderful and beautiful is bound up in them, just like it is bound up in you. It is to not to suggest that somehow you are any less special – it is rather to affirm that they are infinitely special – just like you are. 

Let us challenge ourselves to live into the love of God in the fullness of our lives – in the entirety of our divided hearts – and let us also challenge ourselves to move towards replicating this radical and extravagant love towards our neighbours.[6]

[1] Deut. 6:4-5 ¶ Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 

Lev. 19:18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.

[2] Berakot 9:5.

[3] 1 John 4:19.

[4] As much as this may sound like a goofy pop song, it is what links these two commands together.

[5] πλησίον defined by BDAG as 1. marker of a position quite close to another position, nearby, near, close; 2. as subst. ὁ πλησίον:  the one who is near or close by, neighbor, fellow human being.

[6] A sermon preached at St. Hilda’s Anglican church in Sechelt, BC on October 31, 2021.

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