Love thy neighbour. Those of us raised in Christianity are taught this simple statement as one of the fundamentals of the our faith. Its simplicity, however, is limited to its concept. Application of it is far more difficult than we often perceive.
This commandment is not limited to Christians, of course. It is echoed in sentiments like the golden rule, while countless other religions have similar statements.
It is something, I believe, foundational to achieving not just actual peace, but a deep and profound respect towards all of mankind, regardless of age, race, religion, or gender.
Loving one’s neighbour is a complex issue, requiring stepping outside of one’s self to recognize just what it means.
Often, these days, neighbour seems to be equated with someone more like us. Someone within our borders, who conforms to our cookie cutter ideals rather than bleeds outside the edges of the lines.
If there is one thing I have learned through the growth and development of my faith, it is the commandments provided to us by Jesus are rarely ever easy to carry out. To begin with, the word neighbour does not necessarily mean someone we like, relate to, or get along with.
According to the Oxford dictionary, the word neighbour means:
1) A person living next door to or very near to the speaker or person referred to.
2) A person or place in relation to others next or near to it.
3) Any person in need of one’s help or kindness.
Essentially, the term neighbour in this statement refers to any and all individuals in this world. People in neighbouring countries, in neighbouring cities, from different walks of life, and those that are in need.
‘Love thy neighbour’ is, in essence, a command to love the entire world.
The next difficulty comes from the word “love”, something we often equate to a feeling or a positive sentiment towards another person. Anyone who is a parent, a leader, or married can tell you love often has nothing to do with feelings or sentiments at all–love is an action. It is something you choose to do even when your heart isn’t in it or you don’t feel positively towards the subject of said affection.
The opposite of polarizing, love seeks to understand those who see things differently. It does not negate anger, frustration, or sadness towards their viewpoints, but rather asks for an explanation of why they believe so differently than you. Love means continuing to hope for others even when the views they carry are ones you view as harmful. It means not wishing them harm, even when you cannot fathom where they are coming from.
Love seeks to tear down walls, not to build them.
This is where I believe today’s “Christian” churches are failing the most. Instead of opening doors and showing others genuine love, doors are slamming shut. Walls are celebrated rather than torn down. Instead of reaching out to the downtrodden, they speak out against those who are taking action and loving on those very people.
So many “Christians” cry out against the perceived slights towards their religion, all the while shouting and lobbying for the rights of other religions to be stripped away. They want religious superiority, not equality.
Over and over, the simplest of commands is forgotten: love thy neighbour.
There’s a song by For King and Country called By Our Love. The chorus is simple: And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.
But this is not how Christians are known. Some individuals? Yes. Some churches? Yes. But in general, not at all. One of the greatest criticisms I hear from friends, acquaintances, and colleagues who are of different faiths or beliefs, is that the Christians they know are so filled with hate, with coldness, and with arrogance, that they fail to see this loving Christ our faith proclaims drives us.
I’ve heard the argument that it is love, but it’s misperceived by the world because they don’t like that so-called Biblical values are critical of them. I disagree. If the aim is for the world to see Christ’s unending love, God’s unabashed, unequivocal love, then love is perceived as love, not hate.
We need to do better. We need to be better. If we proclaim to be driven by love, then we need to show that.
The kind of love we are called to have is not one that makes us feel good inside.
It’s not powdery, filled with colourful cotton candy, massive rainbows, and unicorns that poop glitter. It’s messy. The kind of love we’re supposed to have is sacrificial–it puts the hearts, the minds, and the needs of others above our own. This does not mean, of course, that we do not care for ourselves or that we force ourselves into the path of people who actively harm us. But it does mean continuing to love regardless of how different they are from us, or how afraid we may be of the ‘what-ifs’ surrounding them.
We are all guilty of forgetting this specific directive. And we are all capable of fulfilling it. Of taking the time to step back from situations and people and reminding ourselves that they deserve our love, regardless of any reasons we can come up with. Of putting ourselves in the shoes of another instead of allowing our own skewed perceptions to drive our every action and reaction.
Want to see things become “Great Again”? Want to see the world transformed? Start with love. It’s the first, and one of the most powerful steps.
This column was published in the March 3, 2017 edition of The Orangeville Citizen. Grammatical and formatting edits have been made to the version appearing on this blog.