What does it mean to love with all our strength?
It is the one part of Deuteronomy 6:5 that is often brushed over in the Christian tradition. Strength is associated with weight rooms and body builders not churches and people of faith.
In the Jewish tradition, the word for “strength” has also been bypassed and given alternative meanings. Some theologians have chosen to translate it as “wealth” or “possessions” instead of “strength.”
The Hebrew word (b’kol me’odekhah) has, at its root, a connotation of “extra” or “more.”
In this context, the verse may actually be referring to:
“loving God with all your heart, all your soul, and all the more that you are. … All the more commands the mending of relation, for it takes us beyond the conﬁnes of ego into the more of moving towards the neighbor. God confronts man with the demand to turn to his human neighbor, and in doing so, to turn back to God Himself.”¹
To love God with all your strength (or “more”) means that anything under your responsibility should be cultivated in love towards God.
I have responsibilities towards my neighbor, my community, my money, possessions and actions. And in all of these, I cultivate all my powers that I may love God in purity and earnest.
Therefore, the message and commandment of this verse is not merely to love God with your whole self. God is commanding us to love him with all that we are, in all of our existence, and beyond. If the command was only “Love God with your heart, soul, and mind,” we would be left with a love for God that exists inwardly. Even though this inward love can be expressed outwardly, it is not existent outwardly.
By adding “strength” it becomes a command that is essentially communal, to have your love for God literally live outside of you as well. In between you and your neighbor is where this love for God originates and is found. It is like pouring water from your own glass into a fountain where anyone can come and drink. When we give a hungry man food we are not simply showing him our love for him and God — we are helping Godʼs love exist in a new place.
Our love for God becomes something that is beyond us, it is out there. Hence, Johnʼs insistence that to love God, you must love your brother!² A love for God that does not exist outside of ourselves, is not a complete love for God.
We need to begin to see our love for God in this light. It is not simply the idea of expressing to others our love for God in our hearts. It is understanding that our love for God cannot exist unless it exists in our relationships with others.
¹Morgan, Michael L.; Pollock, Benjamin. Philosopher As Witness. SUNY Press 2008. 158.
²1 John 4:21