In my devotions recently, I came across one of the more famous verses in the Old Testament. Jews call it the Shema (from the first word of the text, which means “hear”) while Christians know it mostly from Matthew 22, where Jesus cites it as the greatest commandment in the Mosaic law.
The verse goes as follows: “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Deuteronomy 6:4-5.
I’ve read this passage many times, but this time, the connection between the two verses stood out to me. The first half of the command asks the Israelites to “hear,” or listen and pay attention to the fact that God is one, a belief which set ancient Israelite religion apart from the polytheism of the nations around them. Then, they are commanded to love God with all their heart, soul, and strength. We could try to tease out the implications of what the words “heart” “soul” and “might” mean, but I think that the main focus of the verse is actually the word “all.” Listing heart, soul, and mind serves to emphasize the completeness of the devotion to God this verse commands, but the point is that we should give Him all of ourselves.
The first half of the passage makes a statement “the LORD is one,” that describes an objective fact about the world. Then, it calls us to live in a way that reflects that objective fact. Ultimately, only a god is worthy of our love. Since there is only one God, this means that that God is worthy of all our love.
I don’t mean that we should not love anything other than God, but that we should love everything else for God’s sake. When Jesus quotes this command as the greatest commandment, he immediately adds that the command to love one’s neighbor as oneself is “like it.” This relates to the fact that people are made in the image of God, so loving other people is a way of expressing our love for God. In fact, in some sense we may even be able to “love” other gifts God has given us, such as the natural world, appreciating them because they remind us of God. Ultimately, though, loving anything in a way that detracts from love of God rather than expressing love for God is idolatry.
The call to love God with all of ourselves is actually a call to live in a way that corresponds to reality. Since “that which corresponds to reality” is the definition of truth, this means that fundamentally, God is calling us to live truth. As Psalm 51:6 says, “Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.”
I found this insight especially striking since we tend to think of truth as an abstract concept that we search for in universities isolated from daily life. It’s easy to forget that truth is an inherently practical concept; by definition it relates to the real world outside our heads.
This also means that God’s command, as harsh as it may sound, is actually for our own good. After all, if we aren’t living out the truth, we are living for a lie, which is a disastrous waste of our time on Earth.