Loving Your Neighbor… Does God Ask the Impossible?
“Only God could ask human beings, as put it, to ‘love their crooked neighbor with all their crooked heart.'” – W.H. Auden, poet
What a curious statement. What a clear recognition of the truth of Christianity. We are fallen. We are, each and every one of us, sinners. Indeed, it is this very fact that made the incarnation necessary. It is this fact that proves the love that God has for us. Though we are fallen, though we are weak, the love of God for each of us is unlimited, unconditional and so real that God willingly chose to let go of divinity, to come among us, as one of us, to suffer with and for us, even to die for us, to show us that the way home is through loving one another as he loves each of us.
The question we have to ask ourselves is: ‘Why would he ask us to do what appears to be impossible?
Who could know us better than God? Who could know our potential better than the one who created each and every one of us, both utterly unique, and yet, in his own image and likeness? The problem is not God’s image of us, it is our image of ourselves. Our image of our fellow men and women is often quite the opposite of God’s image of them.
In the 20th century, both National Socialism and Marxism argued that “God is dead,” and as a result, the 20th century was one of the bloodiest in human history. Why? Because both attempted to replace God with the idea that man, and man alone, is the master of his own destiny and that of the masses. Neither could do what they did without a totalitarian form of government. They proved, ironically, that humanity, left to its own devices, is incapable of saving itself from anything. They proved that human government, of any stripe, is uniquely and utterly incapable of ‘saving’ humanity.
Only God, with confidence, without force of any kind, could challenge us to do this. Only God can provide us with what we need to be able to do this—his grace. Only God respects our individual dignity. Only God can move us, in our freedom, to choose to love the other, not because of the legislation of human law, but rather out of the only law worthy of humanity, the law of love.
Only God could challenge us to love one another, not because of our perfection, but rather, because of our imperfection. Only when we are able to see as Jesus sees; only when we can see the brokenness of the other and still love him, or her; only when we can love the other, precisely because we recognize that he, or she, is more like me than not, will we be able to love as Jesus loved. Only God’s grace, not human legislation, can help us love the other as Jesus did.
Justice that comes from government legislation is always incomplete. Only a justice that is grounded in unconditional love can be a true and lasting justice among men and women. People of faith recognize this. People of faith know that it is not the sheer force of human will that is the source of that kind of love. People of faith know, on the contrary, that it is only by the grace of God, who is love itself, that we are able to love that way. Faith tells us that it is God who is the only true and lasting source of all true justice, mercy and forgiveness.
A society without faith is a society that is destined to fail. This is not a matter of theology, or of ideology; it is a matter of historical fact. No human government, at any point in human history, no matter how “good,” has been able to bring heaven down to earth. That kind of thinking is the product of human pride. It is thinking in the wrong direction. It is God, and only God, who can lift earth to heaven. That is why God challenges us, day in and day out, to do what seems to be impossible: “Only God could ask human beings to ‘love their crooked neighbor with all their crooked heart.'”
Dan Doyle is a retired professor of English and Humanities. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology. To read more of Dan’s work, click here.