To begin with, loving one's neighbor is preceded by loving God, a crucial point even self-professed Christians tend to neglect or forget. Put another way, true love for one's neighbour can only manifest if it is preceded by supported by love for God. Loving God first serves to concretize love for the neighbor and elevates it above murky, abstract notions of love. In addition, loving God first personalizes love of the neighbor, lifting it to the level of tangible relationship and interaction - of beings aiding and helping other beings.
In this sense, loving one's neighbor enters the realm of authentic compassion; the sort of authentic compassion that motivates an individual to help someone in need, all without the calculated expectation of receiving any sort of compensation or advantage in return. At the same time, practicing love of the neighbor does increase the likelihood of reciprocity - that the individual who helped his neighbor might one day receive aid from the neighbor when needed; however, true love of the neighbor should not be motivated by such expected stipulations. On the contrary, any love of the neighbor that expects the precondition of 'repayment' cannot be considered true neighborly love.
This is where loving God first and faith come into play. If an individual loves God first, he or she will have demonstrated this love through the love he or she has given to the neighbor; will understand that this in itself is enough; and will also sustain the faith that God will arrange things in such a way that aid will be extended to the individual when required.
I could elaborate on these ideas for pages, but the purpose of this post is not to dissect the various complexities of neighborly love, but rather to share my experience with it over the past week. Last Wednesday I entered the hospital to undergo a same day operation on my foot. Knowing I would not be able to drive home after the procedure, I had planned to take the bus to hospital and enlist the services of a taxi for the ride home. One of my neighbors somehow got wind of this and immediately insisted on taking me to and from the hospital by car. A few days later, another neighbor offered to drive me anywhere I needed to go until my foot healed. Another neighbor has helped my family by taking my wife grocery shopping. Yet another neighbor - a nurse by vocation - appeared unannounced and offered to change my bandages and provide any other assistance I might require.
Needless to say, I have found the outpouring of neighborly love I have received over the past week more than a little overwhelming. Much of this stems from my predilection towards independence and self-sufficiency. I generally like to care of things myself and am reluctant to 'burden' anyone with my own personal problems and troubles. At the same time, I have learned that it is both unwise and impious to refuse the offer of neighborly love when it is extended. Yes, impious. Impious in the sense that all adamant and unqualified refusals of neighborly love interfere with what I would describe as a divine process. Much has been said about the proper provision of neighborly love, but the proper acceptance or acknowledgement of neighborly love has often been overlooked.
My experiences over the past week have brought me much comfort and has deepened my faith in both people and God. At first I was tempted to wholly attribute the generous aid my neighbors have provided to the simple fact that I live in a small, rural settlement, but I can sense there is far more to it than that. Some of the neighbors who have helped me are friends - people I know and have helped myself in the past. Though I did not expect them to help me, their offers of aid did not surprise me when they came. On the other hand, some of the neighborly love I have received has come from people who are more or less strangers to me, and I cannot attribute their offers to assist me to anything but to the love of God.
Unsurprisingly, my experiences over the past week have inspired a great deal of thinking about what love of the neighbor implies. This post has not done much justice to the bulk of that thinking, but it will provide the vehicle through which I wish to express the following observation: Love thy neighbor is vital to Christianity. Nevertheless, love thy neighbor can only be vital to Christianity if it is properly interpreted and properly understood.
As is the case with so much of what appears in the Synoptic Gospels, the command to love thy neighbor has been thoroughly inverted and misapplied by the forces of leftism who have convinced many well-meaning Christians that loving thy neighbor entails a blanket, indiscriminate, abstract sort of love passively leveled at anyone and everyone, preferably through the channel of some bureaucratic system. This interpretation appeals to many because of its apparent indiscriminateness and unconditionality. But this indiscriminateness and unconditionality is, in fact, highly discriminatory and conditional, for it can only 'exist' by taking the love of God out of the equation. Without the love of God, this abstract love of the neighbor achieves the opposite of what it claims to do because it is built on a foundation of anti-love instead of genuine love.
Destroying love of neighbor that is based first on love of God appears to be one the goals of the anti-society that is currently being constructed, driven primarily through the vehicles of the recent (and in some cases, still active) social distancing and lockdown measures imposed by the birdemic crisis. Social distancing and lockdowns not only drive a wedge between neighbors - both proximal and motivational - but also invert the command to love God first by invoking fear and base survival instincts. More than that, SD and LD serve to undermine and reinterpret the vitality and necessity and neighborly love by claiming that remaining 'sheltered in place', 'avoiding others', and relying on official, bureaucratic channels to be the sole source of neighborly love are in themselves 'best practices' when it comes to loving thy neighbor and doing what is best for 'the common good'. I offer an example of this kind of rationalization below, taken from this site, issued about two months ago when the birdemic was cresting in many places:
While it makes sense for all citizens to follow the reasonable restrictions that have been imposed to contain the virus, for Christians doing so is also a matter of faith, charity and justice. After all, these are some of the stars we steer by:
- "Am I my brother’s keeper?” Yes, we are responsible for others. In justice, as well as charity, we have no right recklessly to endanger others, or to cause their death.
- “Thou shalt not kill.”
- “Love your neighbour as yourself.”
I appreciate the allusion to celestial navigation in the above because it contains a truth - we all need stars to steer by, but we must ensure our navigational instruments are properly calibrated. We must also ensure we are using the right stars in the right way. Miscalculations and misinterpretation will cause us to go off course or, worse, run aground, especially when it comes to loving our neighbors.