I saw a post a while ago that has stuck with me for months. This post referenced a choice someone had made—a choice contrary to the teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which they claim membership. After explaining their choice and their feelings surrounding it, they shared that they found peace in their choice by focusing on Heavenly Father’s love for them. They had determined that God’s love and their own happiness was the most important part of this situation.
While I respect that everyone has different circumstances and are doing their best to make decisions that feel right to them, I can’t help but be concerned about this outlook on God’s love and how often I see it paired with controversial choices, as if His love was the only thing to be considered. Let’s look at a few reasons God’s love isn't the only thing that matters.
Because God's Love Doesn't Justify Our Actions
Many of us, myself included, are guilty of relying too heavily on the idea that "God loves me and wants me to be happy, so my happiness must be the most important result of the decisions I make." The dangerous thing about this idea is the amount of truth in it. God does love us, He does want us to be happy, and our happiness is one of His highest priorities (see 2 Nephi 2:25) but it shouldn’t be the sole reason behind our choices.
Elder Dieter F. Utchdorf has said, "Though we are incomplete, God loves us completely. Though we are imperfect, He loves us perfectly. . . . He loves every one of us, even those who are flawed, rejected, awkward, sorrowful, or broken. God’s love is so great that He loves even the proud, the selfish, the arrogant, and the wicked" (emphasis added).
In other words, the sons and daughters of God can do some pretty terrible things—I’ve heard story after story of people who have experienced that firsthand—but that does not change a perfect Father in Heaven’s love for them.
However, God's love does not mean their actions are suddenly justified. The Lord has clearly stated in the scriptures that "[He] cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance" (D&C 1:31; emphasis added, see also Alma 45:16). Though God can love us despite our poor choices, His love cannot and will not override the Heavenly laws of justice. Our actions are in no way excused or justified by God’s love and, as beautiful as that love is, we cannot allow ourselves to forget that we must love Him as well.
Because the Greatest Commandment Is To Love the Lord
When Jesus Christ was asked what the greatest commandment was, He replied without hesitation: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all they mind. This is the first and great commandment" (Matthew 22:37, 38). We know from the scriptures and modern-day revelation that God loves us with "an everlasting love" (Jeremiah 31:3), but do we love Him, too?
I, for one, have often taken my love for my Father in Heaven for granted and have not taken enough time to develop it. While not everyone believes in God, I believe that many of us who do believe in Him love Him in the sense that we feel a deep affection towards Him. However, I don’t think this was the type of love Christ was referring to when He gave us the first and great commandment. While our affection for God is a great first step, this is not the kind of love described by Latter-day prophets:
“True love is a process. True love requires personal action. Love must be continuing to be real. Love takes time.” —Marvin J. Ashton
“If one really loves another, one would rather die for that person than to injure [them].” —Spencer W. Kimball
“True love is . . . a matter of anxious concern for the well-being of one’s companion.” —Gordon B. Hinckley
As the above quotes explain, true love, whether for God or for others in our lives, goes beyond deep affection and actually influences our day-to-day choices connected to those we love. Is this the type of love we have for God? The answer to this question is made clear by our actions and decisions.
Because What We Love Is What We Become
The Savior provided the perfect way to measure our love for Him when He said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Elder Dieter F. Utchdorfadded, “Our obedience to God’s commandments comes as a natural outgrowth of our endless love and gratitude for the goodness of God." So how much we love our Heavenly Father can, in essence, be measured by how well we keep the commandments.
My first reaction to hearing this statement led me to ponder all the times I hadn’t kept the commandments. I worried that giving in to temptation was some sort of sign that I didn’t truly love God after all.
Fortunately, I discovered that this is not the case. I realized that decisions not to keep the commandments simply meant I loved something else more than God in that moment, not that I didn’t love Him at all. This made repentance so much easier for me to understand. Heavenly Father wants to feel my love, and I want to show Heavenly Father how much I love Him, so I make sure that the next time I am offered a similar choice I choose to be obedient so that Heavenly Father can see my love for Him.
If we truly love God, we spend our time and efforts developing that love and increasing our capacity for it "line upon line, precept upon precept" (2 Nephi 28:30). We would rather die than injure or sadden our Father in Heaven through disobedience to His commandments. We would be anxiously concerned about His desires and not our own. These are the types of actions we need to look for when measuring how much we love God.
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So what matters more, God’s love for us or our love for God? If our goal is eternal life with an eternal family in the presence of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, the answer is clear. As Elder Uchtdorf also said, "God does not need us to love Him. But oh, how we need to love God! For what we love determines what we seek. What we seek determines what we think and do. What we think and do determines who we are—and who we will become" ("The Love of God," 2009).