Love Thy Neighbor

Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

— Matthew 22:39

Of what use then is the law? To lead us to Christ, the Truth. To waken in our minds a sense of what our deepest nature, the presence, namely, of God in us, requires of us—to let us know, in part by failure, that the purest effort of will of which we are capable cannot lift us up even to the abstaining from wrong to our neighbor. What man, for instance, who loves not his neighbor and yet wishes to keep the law, will dare be confident that never by word, look, tone, gesture, or silence, will he bear false witness against that neighbor? What man can judge his neighbor aright save him whose love makes him refuse to judge him? Therefore are we told to love, and not judge. It is the sole justice of which we are capable, and that perfected will comprise all justice. In order to fulfil the commonest law, we must rise into a loftier region altogether, a region that is above law, because it is spirit and life and makes the law: in order to keep the law towards our neighbor, we must love our neighbor. We are not made for law, but for grace—or for faith, to use another word so much misused. We are made on too large a scale altogether to have any pure relation to mere justice, if indeed we can say there is such a thing. It is but an abstract idea which, in reality, will not be abstracted. The law comes to make us long for the needful grace—that is, for the divine condition, in which love is all, for God is Love.


The Call to Love
by Stephen Carney

 “Of what use then is the law? To lead us to Christ, the Truth.”  We were never capable of keeping the law in our own power, but then it was never given with that intent.  While God was handing down the Ten Commandments to Moses on the mountain top, the children of Israel were down below breaking every one of them.  But what MacDonald is trying to show us is that the law was given to show us our sinfulness in order that we might come to the Truth, of who Christ is to us and who we are to him.  In another words, the law simply shows us our need for a Savior, as it reveals to us our true nature. 

I have said before that there is no revelation of Jesus Christ without an accompanying revelation of man to himself.  The law does a similar work.  It reveals how judgmental we are and how foolish.  We point the finger at others and talk about their sins as if we had none of our own.  Then someone points out our sins and we are devastated.  Or, as MacDonald alludes to, how can a person who does not love their neighbor ever be sure they will not gossip, slander, judge or be unkind to their neighbor?  How can they be sure they will keep the law with them?  They can't, and that is why God commands us to love our neighbors, instead of asking us to give them justice. 

Love fulfills the requirements of the law, because in trying to keep the law and do justice we will surely fail, but “love covers a multitude of sins.” In other words, we cannot keep the law perfectly (completely) but we can love someone completely.  This love is not the emotional kind, but the higher, God-like love that is born of the will.  It is a choice to love our neighbor, it is not having a warm, fuzzy feeling towards them.  It is a call to do right by them because we love God and wish to see the smile on his face and theirs.  Love does what the law could never do, it mends relationships and hearts.  It goes the extra mile with people, not because if feels good to do the extra work; rather, we are constrained by love, by the grace to move toward a loving result with our friends and neighbors. 

Someone has said, “To love God with all your mind, soul and strength and to love your neighbor as your self is to say the same thing.”  We cannot love God and hate our neighbor.  That is a contradiction in terms.  We would be saying, “I love God, but do not love what he loves.”   God is in the “people business,” and is not willing that any should perish; he is working toward the redemption of the human race, so how can we claim to love God and hate the very thing he has given everything to redeem? 

Finally, our response to all of this should be one of contrition.  MacDonald's novels are replete with stories of contrition.  His characters are always seeing their errors toward God and their fellow man, and begin to make choices which draw them deeper into the presence of God.  Repentance is a key here.  It simply means to turn around and go another way.  It is to find out that you are on the wrong highway and need to make a U-Turn to find your way again.  Often, we can find ourselves emotional in these matters.  We can be frustrated, angry, or broken-hearted because we have discovered our errors have caused others great harm or we have harmed ourselves.  The law is like a flashlight in the darkness that shows us where we are.  We may not like what we see or where we are, but it is extremely helpful to finally know where one is on this journey called life.  So, love's call is to see our failings in keeping the law, to turn around and begin anew by following love's call.  In this season of lent, which is all about repentance, it would be good to remind ourselves of our failings to keep the law and our need to call upon the love of Christ to help us find our way again.  The following is a Celtic prayer, that is very ancient but well worth the read:

Grant Me Tears

Grant me tears, O Lord, to blot out my sins;
May I not cease from them, O God,
Until I have been purified.

May my heart be burned by the fire of redemption;
Grant me tears with purity for the love of Jesus.

When I contemplate my sins, grant me tears always,
for great are the claims of tears on cheeks.

Grant me tears when rising, grant me tears when resting,
Beyond your every gift altogether for of You.

Grant me tears in bed to moisten my pillow,
So that His dear one may help to cure the soul.

Grant me contrition so that I may not be in disgrace;
O Lord, protect me and grant me tears.

For the dalliance I had with women (men), who did not reject me,
Grant me tears, O Creator, flowing in streams from my eyes.

For my anger and my jealousy and my pride, a foolish deed,
In pools from my inmost parts bring forth tears.

My falsehoods and my lying and my greed, grievous the three,
To banish them all from me, grant me tears.

(Ancient Celtic Prayer of Repentance, adaptation by S. Carney)