And he said to him, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. -- Matthew 22:37-39
Monday, January 26, 2015
How To Love God
Why didn’t Jesus tell us to love God as we love ourselves? Our love toward God is based on God’s goodness. We love God in obedience. We love God in adulation and adoration. We love God based on knowledge, i.e., with all the mind, through revelation, with all of the soul. God is deserving of love. Apart from God, humanity would have no love, only protective instincts, something that evolved to preserve the species and propagate our selfish genes.
Why then did the Lord say we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves? I don’t love myself because I deserve love. I don’t love myself because I am good, not even because I am better than other people. I know my faults. I may think I’m smarter than some other people, smarter even than some Nobel Laureates and graduates of Harvard and Yale. But I know a lot of other people who are smarter than I am, so I don’t love myself because of my intelligence, my athletic ability, my rugged good looks, the size of my biceps, or any of my many and varied skills.
I love myself “in spite of”. I can’t really help it. Sure, there are times when I screw up so monumentally that I say I hate myself, but I say that because I love myself and I am deeply disappointed in how I hosed things. If I really hated myself I would rejoice in my own failures – and I have had plenty of opportunities. That’s not the same as wallowing in self-pity, which some of us are prone to do.
That’s what Jesus means. You love your neighbors in spite of their imperfections, in spite of the fact that they sometimes hurt you or offend you or mistreat you. You love your neighbors when they persecute you and reject you, when they strip you naked, beat you, and hang you on a cross to die, suffocated by your paralyzed chest muscles. You love your neighbor whether his boots are plastic or full-quill ostrich. You love your neighbor when his clothes are second-hand and his hygiene is bad and when his wife carries a Coach bag that cost more than your car.
One of the great lessons I learned was from my friend, Eddie. Eddie had money, and he loved good cars. He drove the most expensive Cadillac available, paid cash for it. Nothing wrong with foreign cars if you’re a foreigner, that was his view. But somebody could drive up in a new car of any kind, and he was just as happy and excited for that person as he would have been for himself. “I love to see my brothers and sisters driving nice cars,” he would say. He loved his neighbor as he loved himself.
Jesus wants us to use His Golden Rule as the starting point. Treat others the way you want them to treat you. That is a good beginning in the natural realm. When we step into the spiritual realm, when we begin to “rejoice with those who rejoice” even as we “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:5), we begin to see that there is no distance or distinction in Christ because the very same Holy Spirit, the very same Person, the very same God dwells in and gives life to each and every one of us.
Thus we come to understand what John says in his first epistle: If anyone says, I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.