“Teacher, what is the great commandment in the Law?” His answer was: “‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy Heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.’ This is the great first commandment. (Matthew 22:36-38)
Jean du Vergier de Hauranne, Abbé de Saint-Cyran was a French monk who made a most unusual protest. The powerful Cardinal Richelieu, both spiritual director and prime minister to King Louis XIII, had told his troubled sovereign that it was only necessary to fear the punishment of hell in order to be pleasing to God. The Abbé de Saint-Cyran, well versed in the Scriptures, objected to this publicly. For his defiance, Richelieu had him thrown in prison, where he remained for most of the rest of his life.
How many of us would go to prison for proclaiming that it was necessary to love God to go to heaven? We speak very freely that it is necessary to have faith in order to be saved, and we say that those who don’t have this faith are destined to be lost forever in hell. But loving God was Jesus’ first commandment. Beyond that, he was only repeating that commandment from Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Judaism’s most sacred declaration, which his Pharisee opponents hung from their foreheads and wrists!
Loving God is central to our relationship with him. It is the response to God’s love for us, in sending his Son Jesus Christ to die and rise for us. If we want a religion where the fear of hell is the dominating force of our faith, we should turn to Islam: “Every soul shall taste of death. And you shall be paid in full your rewards only on the Day of Resurrection. So whosoever is removed away from the Fire and is made to enter Heaven has indeed attained his goal. And the life of this world is nothing but an illusory enjoyment.” (Sura 3:185) Every Muslim is thus told that they must pass through hell to get to paradise!
God loved us. It must be our first desire in life to love him!