And you shall love YHWH your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Deuteronomy 6:5
Heart/ Soul/ Might – If we are commanded to love God with all (kol) we’ve got, obviously that command affects the entire body of behaviors. Rather than allow us to fumble around trying to decide exactly what is included in the “all,” God’s Word provides three general categories. Each category helps us focus on the wider implications of kol. Unfortunately, in a Greek-based culture, we tend to think of these categories as separate boxes. This division of Man into separate parts often allows us to imagine that we can be “all in” in one area and have less commitment in another. But Hebrew never views Man as the combination of separate pieces. Man is a completely unified, embodied, homogenized whole. Using the three words “heart,” “soul,” and “might,” doesn’t mean we can divide the Hebrew Man. It only means that Hebrew asks us to pay particular attention to what it means to love God in these three ways.
So what are the three ways? The first is “heart,” (lev), the way of our choices, our emotions, our actions-decisions, and our thinking. You could conclude that this covers it all. How we decide, what we decide, what we do as a result of what we decide, how we feel about what we do and what we think about all of that is “heart.” To love God with all your heart is to apply God’s point of view and character to our ways in the world. Make Him count in every thought, word and deed.
So what’s left? Hebrew suggests that there is a second area of application – the “soul.” Of course, our Greek understanding of soul follows Plato. In his view, the soul is a separate, divine spark imprisoned in a moral, fleshly body. The objective of Greek-based religion is to free the soul from the corruptible body and allow it to ascend to heaven. If this sounds a little like our theology of “saving souls” and “insuring you’ll get to heaven,” don’t be too surprised. Most of the early Christian theologians introduced this Platonic interpretation as a replacement of the Hebrew unified view. The “mind-body-soul” view of Man comes directly from Greek philosophy, not Scripture.
“Soul” is the Hebrew word nephesh. It is better translated “person.” It’s everything that makes me who I am. But isn’t that what “heart” just described? Not quite. “Heart” focuses on the individual “me.” It is about my thoughts, words and deeds. But who I am as a person is also defined by my relationship to others. Nephesh isn’t my internal, hidden, spiritual “soul.” It is the whole person, defined by his relationship to his Creator and to creation. Since we know that being human is a verb, a process of becoming through a dialog with the Creator and service to the creation, we know that who I am is defined by my connections to God and to His world. I am to love God through all these connections. By the way, there is considerable overlap between lev and nephesh, so I can never divide the two in Hebrew.
Finally, there is me’od (translated “might”). Unfortunately, the translations like “might” or “strength” aren’t quite correct. The word isn’t a noun. It is either an adverb or an adjective that is sometimes used like a noun. But what it really means is “great,” or “very,” or “exceedingly.” It is the what-ness of life, all the stuff we have on loan to do His bidding. This is the great abundance of what is put into our hands for His use. We are to love Him with all our on-loan provisions.
Combining these three areas of focused attention demonstrates that God commands love as the active behavior of treating everything as He would. His thought must become our thoughts. His deeds our deeds. His care of creation our care. His expressions of emotions ours as well. Love is what we do in all that we do. The standard is the behavior of God. “Be holy for I am holy.” That pretty much sums it up, doesn’t it?
Topical Index: heart, soul, might, lev, nephesh, me’od, Deuteronomy 6:5