A month ago or so I received this question from a college student:
“Do you love God more than you love your wife? If so, how do you do that?”
My assumption is that he was in some sort of relationship, and was wrestling with how to properly align and prioritize his love for his God and his love for his girlfriend. And this is a wrestling match I remember well from the days of my youth. Periodically I peruse old journals I kept in high school and early college, and chief among many of those entries were struggles I was having with “putting God first” when it came to whatever sort of relationship I was in.
Like the above question states, how do we ensure that our love for God is greater (because we are told that it ought be) than our love for all others? Even above the person in our life that we love the most? Or, are we perhaps coming at this all wrong?
Here was my response:
You asked: “Do you love God more than you love your wife? If so, how do you do that?”
I’ll respond with a question: Why do you assume that the two (loving God and loving a spouse) are mutually exclusive?
Or, to put that differently, it seems that built in to your question is the assumption that there are two different entities (God and spouse) and that the act of loving these two entities are in some way compare-able.
But what if they don’t stand in contrast to each other? What if, instead, they feed off each other?
Meaning, what if every time time I “love” my wife, I am simultaneously loving God?
If God is love (as John teaches us) than might we also say that “Love is God?” And if THAT’S the case, then each time I act towards my wife in a loving way, each time I think towards her with loving thoughts, each day that I choose to continue to honor our vows and cherish and adore her, I am continually (in the very act of loving) also expressing a love for and a love towards God.
Perhaps if we thought of it like this, we would be less inclined to feel guilt and shame at thoughts like: “do I love my spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend more than God?” , “does this make me a bad Christian?” , “am I putting this person first in my life, in front of God?”
I think those sorts of negative voices can be dismantled when we re-frame what love is, who God is, and how we actually LOVE GOD when we LOVE PEOPLE… most of all, our spouses.
Or, actually, most of all: our enemies. When we love THEM we are probably loving God the MOST. But that’s a different topic.
If viewed like this then it becomes relatively impossible for us to love anyone more than God, for every time we enact the sacred gift of giving love to someone we are simultaneously loving Love. We are, in a sense, calling forth God through our act of love while also demonstrating our love of and our love towards God.
Earlier today I came across this blog post, where Richard Beck also dialogues with a college student. (you should pause now and go read that… then come back). In it, he wonders if we’ve created a Bait and Switch type of Christianity. And as I read through his post it reminded me of my above correspondence with this college student. Instead of worrying so much about “improving our relationship with God” (as Richard’s conversation went), or about “ensuring we love God more than others” (as my conversation went), would our time and energy be better spent repairing broken relationships, giving of our selves for others, making time in our day for an old friend or family member, showing kindness to strangers, etc.
For when we choose love, we choose God.
Or, as one commenter on Richard’s post said:
The closer you get to God, the closer you get to people
The closer you get to people, the closer you get to God
The more you love God, the more you love people
The more you love people, the more you love God