Loving God

March 03 2018 | by

IPSOS Social Research Institute conducted a new survey of 18,000 people in 23 countries regarding their religious beliefs. Results show that 51 percent of people worldwide believe in God while 18 percent don’t and 17 percent are undecided. Where does this leave the unaccounted for 14 percent? Could these be those who simply ‘don’t know’ because they haven’t thought much about whether God exists, so they have no opinion.

Apparently, even those who don’t know if God exists have an opinion regarding an afterlife. According to the survey, 51 percent of the respondents believe in an afterlife. This figure may not exactly correspond to the 51 percent who believe in God. Possibly some of those who believe in God may not be too sure about an afterlife. Twenty six percent of the respondents say that they ‘don’t know’ what will happen to them after they die, while 23 percent believe that they will ‘cease to exist’. These percentages add up to 100 percent of those surveyed.


God’s anger


Let’s consider the 14 percent who did not respond to the question, “Do you believe in God?” Why would they ignore that question? Did they not want to admit that they believed or disbelieved or simply didn’t know? What would make someone afraid to answer a survey question, “Do you believe in God?”

If the person was not sure if God existed, he or she may not want to say so in case God did exist and was angry with nonbelievers. If God did exist, the believer would have to forego his or her sinful behavior or risk God’s righteous anger with sin. The Bible mentions God’s anger several times. God judges the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day” (Psalm 7:11). “And the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods. But he did not keep what the LORD commanded” (1 Kings 11: 9-10). “Therefore, the LORD was very angry with Israel and removed them out of his sight. None was left but the tribe of Judah only” (2 Kings 17:18).

If a person wants to continue in a sinful lifestyle, he or she may reason that investigating God too thoroughly is unwise. Better to have an inkling of belief, just enough to throw yourself on His mercy when you die, saying, “But I didn’t know any better.” If one mistakenly concludes that God does not exist, the individual may fear risking damnation for unbelief.


Attitude of trust


Such attitudes show a fear and mistrust of God. Saint Anthony counteracts that attitude in his thoughts on Luke 10: 27, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Anthony says that, “This text includes every perfection of this life and the next. Each and every word is of great power and utility” (Sermons for Sundays and Festivals, Vol. II, p. 332; translated by Paul Spilsbury;  Messaggero di Sant’Antonio – Editrice).

The evangelist John tells us that “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18). Anthony tells us the same thing. Those who love God and neighbor and serve them have no fear or mistrust. “Love binds together [and]… is based on two precepts, the love of God and of neighbor, and is to be found only in the good” (Sermons II, p. 332).

Rather than ignore who God is, Anthony invites us to recognize that “The Lord is master of all creation, head of all the cosmic household, the judge of all. God… is the Awesome, the One who sees all. The Greek word theos is related to the word for ‘run,’ for he runs through all things. Love binds us to God and to our neighbor. It is the ‘line’… The Lord has stretched out the line of his love upon the soul, so that it may in turn stretch itself out to love of neighbor… Therefore, Love the Lord thy God” (Sermons II, p. 332).


Universal desire


Those who don’t believe in God, or don’t know if God exists, do know about love. No one denies that love exists. Biologists have even tried to find the biological basis for love, focusing on neurochemicals. Everyone believes in love. Everyone craves love. Anthony reminds us that this desire for and seeking after love is a desire for and seeking after God because “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8). Thus, those who love really do know God on some level, whether or not they admit it.

Anthony explains: “He deserves your love, who, being your Lord and God, made himself your servant; so that you might be his, and might not be ashamed to serve him” (Sermons II, pp. 332-33). Lest we think that we can’t serve him because we are sinners, Anthony tells us that we can serve God even when we are sinners. He quotes this startling passage from the prophet Isaiah: “Thou hast made me to serve with my sins. [Is 43.24] For thirty-three years your God was made your slave because of your sins, so that he might free you from slavery to the devil. Therefore, you shall love the Lord your God who made you, who subjected himself for your sake, who gave himself wholly to you, that you might give yourself wholly to him” (Sermons II, p. 334).

Rather than run from or ignore God, we should “Love the Lord, your God, then… when you were not, he gave himself to you… when you were faring ill, he gave himself to you so that you might be well; and when he gave himself to you, he gave you back to yourself” (Sermons II, p. 334). Anthony implies that we are not fully ourselves when we sin, but, rather than destroy us or punish us as our sins deserve, Christ himself takes our punishment and so restores us to our true selves – that is, to our sinless state that God intended us to have.


Total dedication


Since God gives us the priceless gift of spiritual restoration, common courtesy requires that we give him something in return. But what? “Given and restored, you owe him yourself; you owe him double; and owe him totally. Therefore, love the Lord your God with all your heart. When he says ‘all’, he does not exempt some part of you; he commands you to offer your whole self to him. ‘By his whole self, he redeemed your whole self’, that he alone might possess you wholly. Therefore, love the Lord your God with all your heart. Do not withhold part of yourself… Love wholly, not in part. God has no parts, he is everywhere wholly, and so he does not want just some part in what is yours, being wholly in what is his. If you keep back some part of you for yourself, you are yours and not his. Do you want to have him wholly? Then give him what is yours, and he will give you what is his. Then you will have nothing of your own, because you will have all of him with all of yourself. Therefore, love the Lord your God” (Sermons II, p. 334).

Updated on March 03 2018