Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven....Therefore, whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock.... (Matt. 7:21,24)Here Jesus enters into a rabbinic dispute of the day: Which is more important--to hear the Torah, the Law, or to do it? Remarkably, Jesus applies this question to his own words. He puts his own sayings on a par with the will of the Father and, tacitly, with the Torah itself. That estimate of oneself and of the status of one's words and commands was not standard rabbinic practice! This is just one of those passages that utterly blows away the many pseudo-historical pictures of Jesus foisted upon us by faddish "scholarship"--Jesus the (merely) great teacher, Jesus the (mere) man, Jesus whose omniscience was so radically emptied that he was gradually discovering himself and his nature and mission throughout his ministry on earth. That is not Jesus as the Scriptures show him to us. Rather, Jesus knows quite well who he is and what he is here for, and Jesus speaks with a quiet authority that drops like a bombshell into the lives of his hearers. Hence "the people were astonished at his doctrine, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes."
The first and great commandment, we are reliably told, is "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind."
But what does it mean to love God? There are, no doubt, some saintly souls to whom the love of God comes naturally, who find themselves spontaneously filled with love for God in their private and public worship, and who never suffer from the sneaking worry that they are just ginning up their own emotions. I am not among those. To me, God is not vivid. He is a spirit, and I have little idea of what it will be like to have the beatific vision, to "see him as he is" to "know even as also I am known." The solution to that, in Christian theology, is supposed to be the Incarnation: "No man hath seen God at any time," but "the only begotten Son...he hath declared him."
Very well, then, what does it mean to love Jesus? I recently heard a song, new to me, called "The Stranger of Galilee." I have to admit, it didn't resonate. It says, "And I felt I could love him forever,/So gracious and tender was He." Hmmm, really? Read the Gospels. Go ahead; read them. Is your first response to Jesus there to "feel that you could love him forever"? Would that have been your initial reaction had you known him in person? If so, you're a better man than I am, so to speak. I might have been curious about him, fascinated, disturbed, but also, I suspect, annoyed. Just who does this man think he is? Jesus as portrayed in the Gospels is incredibly compelling but not a fuzzy bunny you want to stroke. You take him or leave him as he is, with eternal consequences. Your opinion of his graciousness and tenderness is neither asked nor required.
So if one's ability truly to love God and truly to desire God, to want God above all things, in the sense of experiencing a psychologically and emotionally sensible desire for ultimate union with God the Father or with Jesus Christ, is the measure of a soul's health, I'm in trouble. Of course, that's hardly a reductio of the position that desiring God is the ultimate measure of spiritual health. Probably most of us are, to one extent or another, at most times in our lives, spiritually "in trouble." But the concern here is that there is little one can do about it and that God would not demand something and then sit back and not give us the capacity to fulfill those demands. If the wise writings of C.S. Lewis have taught me one thing (and they have taught me many) it is that it is spiritual folly to try to make oneself feel certain things because one thinks that is what one ought to feel.
This is where the will comes in. Can we not say that to try to unite one's will with God's will is to love God? To ask, sincerely, that "thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven," and to commit oneself to doing, to the best of one's ability, what is required of oneself to that end, is to respond to Jesus' words: "Whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock." It may be beyond my scope to desire God in the abstract, but I can desire in the concrete that nothing in myself should stand in the way of God's glory and the fulfillment of God's will on earth, that I should, rather, be a tool used to that end.
And it seems to me, though I speak under correction, that at that point "he'll take care of the rest."