Can we be commanded to love?

This is the first question that comes to mind when we think about the commandments of God’s Law. We see love as something spontaneous, and “commands” as forced and inauthentic. But there’s a way out of the maze: the reality of joyful obligations. God asking us to love our parents or friends is the perfect example of this.

When we discover that God has loved us first, we understand our obligation to love Him as a response to a gift that’s greater than our entire existence. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). This is the great truth that illuminates the life of every Christian and illuminates the obligation to love God.

That God loved us first means that there is a love that underpins our existence, which is prior to everything we have done or will ever do, that does not depend on our goodness or wickedness, and that will always be available to fill our lives. It is a certainty, born of faith, that overwhelms the heart when we touch it and will be even more astonishing when we let ourselves be pierced by it. It translates into the ability to see life as a gift and an opportunity to develop that fundamental love. This commandment, like the other nine, points out the best direction for our freedom.

The ten commandments can actually be summarized in just one: to love God. It’s the face of that love that changes in the other nine. God is present in all of them. The commandment to honor our parents, for example, means loving God in our parents, trying to discover the love of God that reaches us through them. The same could be said of the other commandments.

What does loving God mean?

To love God is to allow oneself to be loved. Perhaps it seems impossible to love someone we do not see or imagine, but it might help us to think that this love is different. Certain skills can only be learned by doing. You learn to swim by swimming, for example. You’re given a few theoretical instructions and then… Into the water! Love is like that: we learn to love by loving. But God’s love is a bit different. To love God, we have to let ourselves be loved by Him. 

Letting ourselves be loved by God means opening our hearts in the places where we think we’re self-sufficient. It means accepting his mercy where we see ourselves as sinners, his forgiveness in order to forgive, his help to fulfill those desires that seem impossible to us, and his grace to get close to Him.

Obviously, our love is imperfect, but it is real love. We will always find that our efforts to return the love He gives us are not enough, or that we do not want His precepts with “all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind,” as Scripture says. Or that we approach Him to be rewarded or granted favors. Many times, we love Him in a self-interested way, in order to receive a favor in return. But this imperfection is a sign of our absolute need for Him. Therefore, loving Him means recognizing our vulnerability and opening ourselves to His message. St. John expresses it more clearly: “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son” (1 Jn 4:10).

This love is a journey, or, in other words, it grows as we mature. When we tangibly experience God's love, it is easy to feel loved; this is the first step, which we could call “infatuation.” But for that beginning to continue, we must also involve our intelligence and will in a single act of love. This is what the journey of Love consists of: over time, wanting what God wants and rejecting what God rejects.

Jesus Christ taught us how we should ask things of God in the Our Father. There we say, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” This has a lot to do with the love we owe to God. Loving God means wanting his will to be fulfilled and not the other way around, not wanting God to submit to our will and desires (no matter how good and noble they may be), but opening ourselves to His will.

What does God want from us?

The commandments are part of the will of God for us, and they involve a struggle against sin. Then there’s God’s particular will in each person’s life, that can be difficult to see clearly: does God want me to marry that person, to marry now or later? Does God want me in a specific vocation within the Church? Does God want me to accept this job or that one? It is useful to consider that God wants us free, with the freedom of those who live the life of the Spirit (which is the love of God). Therefore, there are a lot of decisions that God leaves to the freedom of man and are not predetermined, and many others in which we have to seek an answer. 

We will not find a written answer with clouds in the sky, but we will find it within ourselves. It is our mission to open that interior to the Creator, or in clearer terms, to open the interior to the love that created us and respond in love.

A difficulty that, sooner or later, we will have to face is when pain appears in our lives: an illness, an injustice, or evil in its various forms. It is difficult to want God's will when that desire takes the form of pain. In that situation, loving God is something deeper that requires an openness to the mystery of the Passion of the Lord. God is always good, everything that comes from Him is good, although that goodness is not clearly shown on this earth. But we need His light so that that pain does not close our interior, but rather gives it meaning.

Not loving false gods

We all have a restless heart that seeks to be satisfied. But we can quiet that heart with false gods such as money, pleasure, success, power, or the self. Loving those gods above all things fills us with anguish because we will always want more and those gods will give us less and less. “You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you” (St. Augustine).