Love Thy Neighbor

“Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”

— Matthew 22:39

Imagine a conversation which might pass in a man’s mind on each side of the question, Why should I love my neighbor? “He is the same as I, therefore I ought to love him.” “Why? I am I. He is he.” “But he has the same thoughts, feelings, hopes, sorrows, joys, as I.” “And why should I love him for that? He must mind his, I can only do with mine. I cannot get into his consciousness, nor he into mine. I wish I could love him, but I do not see why. I am an individual, as is he. My self must be closer to me that he can be. Two bodies keep me apart from his self. I am isolated with myself.”

Now, here lies the mistake at last. The thinker falsely judges the individuality of each man a separation between them. On the contrary, it is the sole possibility and very bond of love. ‘Otherness’ is the essential ground of affection. Whenever anything does not exist that ought to be there, the space it ought to occupy assumes the appearance of a separating gulf.  The negative appears to be a positive. Where a man does not love, the not-loving must seem rational. For no one loves because he sees why, but because he loves. No human reason can be given for the highest necessity of divinely created existence. For reasons are always from above. Love cannot be argued about in its absence, it cannot be dealt with by the algebra of the reason or imagination. Indeed, the very talking about it raises a mist between the mind and the vision of it. But let a man once love, and all the difficulties which appeared opposed to love will just be so many arguments for loving. 

Commentary

by Jolyn Canty

Love is a paradox when considering otherness, individuality, and oneness. The Otherness, of which George MacDonald speaks, reminds me of my friend, Terry Burns.  She lived by a maxim she called “The Thirty-Second Rule.”  The rule was very simple and easy to follow; she would never speak about herself for more than thirty seconds, and she followed this maxim without fail. Whenever she was with others, she’d plunk herself down and give them her full attention.  Young or old, it didn’t matter; she wanted to know everything about each person-- all their hopes, joys, sorrows, passions, goals. She made it all about others, and everyone loved and adored her. No matter how hard I tried, I could never get her to break her rule; she would not talk about herself for more than 30 seconds.  She is now with the Lord, but her legacy lives on every time her rule is remembered and practiced. 

Terry’s Thirty-Second Rule is basically love in action.  Everyone longs to be heard and truly understood.  We want to matter. We want our “Otherness” to be noticed.  We want to be loved.  What a gift Terry gave everyone by saying, “You matter more than I.  I want to hear your heart.  Don’t worry about me or my story-- I want to know your story instead.” Truly this is “Loving your neighbor as yourself.”

These are they who gather grace, as the mountain-tops the snow, to send down rivers of water to their fellows.
— George MacDonald, Donal Grant, ch. 27