In order to sort some important things out, we have to do some further work on the relationship of giver and gift. I propose to begin by discussing the relationship between created giver and created gift, and then moving up to the much more complicated relationship between the Uncreated Personal Giver and the created personal gift. By this latter phrase, I mean my wife, my children, my neighbors, etc. It is all very well to rightly relate a frosted mug of beer to the Creator, but my neighbor is always more sinful than the beer is, and frequently more irritating. Hopefully, this will be sorted out in due course.
Suppose a mother has a pre-teen son who is very bright, highly analytical, and who, because he was born in the late nineties, had never heard of a Rubik’s Cube. She gets him one for a present, and as soon as the challenge is presented to him, he responds to the gift with delight. He thanks her effusively, which takes two minutes. He then spends three hours on the sofa in the living room, absorbed in his gift. During that time, he does not think of his mom once. When he solves the problem, and knows how to do it right every time, he puts the cube down, and goes to find his mother. He says, “Mom, I haven’t enjoyed myself that much in a long time. Thanks so much.” This takes about five seconds.
Now if we measured what this young fellow thought of his mother in terms of quantity only, we are going to run into trouble. He spent 125 seconds thanking her, and 10,800 seconds working on a cubical device with different colored squares on it. What’s that? Ninety nine percent of his time was spent on a little plastic box, and one percent of his time was spent talking to his mother, thanking her for it.
But time is not a pie that can be sliced up that way. He is delighting his mother every time she looks out at him, head bent over that dumb thing, not thinking about her at all. Not only does time not work that way, neither is loyalty measured that way.
Creatures need anchor points. We do wander, we do forget, and so we need to reel our minds in from the distractions of the world on a regular basis. There are many whose spiritual life is choked out completely by the cares of this world (Matt. 13:22). Jesus wouldn’t have talked about it the way He did unless it was a big deal. This is why we should worship the Lord weekly, and this is why we should lift up our prayers daily.
But the mistake lies in thinking that if one’s good, then two’s better. We are not supposed to have a worship service every night. We are not supposed to show up at work three hours later because we were praying. That is a false standard of holiness. God wants us to worship Him, thinking about Him. He wants us to visit at the dinner table, thinking about the kids. He wants us to mow the lawn, thinking about nothing.
The work we have to show up on time for at the whirligig factory may be (in the abstract) less important than what we were praying about. But we are still supposed to finish our prayers in a timely way, and go do the less important thing. That’s the important thing.
Now things get complicated when it comes to love of our neighbor. This is complicated when our neighbor is a loving spouse, with whom we get along famously, and it is complicated in another way when it is the churlish neighbor across the street, the one with the barkity barkity midnight dog. Fortunately, the Bible does not leave us without instruction.
“No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us . . . If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also” (1 John 4:12, 20-21).
This is not a passage that teaches us to love God 90% of the time, for He is God and therefore most important, and then we are to love our neighbor with the remaining 10%. No, we are to love God 100% by how we love our neighbor 100%. They do not exclude each other. They can occupy the same space. But please note that this is perichoretic, not pantheistic.
These things are too hard for us. It makes our head hurt. We need practice. We need to learn how to do this. And this is why God has given us the Lord’s Supper — to learn how to love God in our neighbor, and how to love our neighbor in God, and to do so without confounding them. It was not for nothing that C.S. Lewis said, in The Weight of Glory, “Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.” And to treat him as such robs God of nothing.