In all honesty, I've never really understood atheism because, to me, loving God seems like a very easy thing to do (I realize that I'm speaking from the perspective of faith). After all, God is love, all goodness comes from Him, all things work for the good for those who love Him; He is truth, is full of mercy, is a disciplinarian in the best sense, is out for our best interests, and has 'got our backs' with His wise providence. Even from a solely intellectual perspective, to my mind it seems like such a facile leap from loving the concept of the Judeo-Christian God, to believing in Him, at least in the "having nothing to lose, now that I know who He is," sense.
But the loving of one's neighbor part? Um, yeah, sure I love my neighbor. I mean, I don’t hate anyone, not even my ‘enemies’... I just assume they’re completely misguided and deficient in some intellectual capacity. Wait, you mean that isn’t love?
I think the second commandment is simultaneously much easier and harder than the first.
Loving one's neighbor is easier than loving God, for some. We can see this in how many of the faith-less are much more loving to others than some of the faith-ful. The horizontal plane, after all, is the domain of the empirical, where you can 'measure' love by the evidence of human efforts, for example: selfless acts, kind words, as well as money or time we donate to a good cause. These can all be accomplished without inserting God, or the 'vertical' into the scheme. However, dismissing the 'vertical' aspect of love, as atheists do for the exclusive emphasis on 'horizontal' plane of charity is not without its share of problems. This is especially true when trying to arrive at the reasons for doing anything good to begin with. The classic "What’s it all for?" or "Why bother doing any good at all, if there isn’t a heaven?" questions inevitably arise. But the horizontal can lead to the vertical - how many times do we cast our gaze upward after witnessing a great act of charity on someone’s part?
Loving one's neighbor is also harder than loving God, because the people you’re supposed to love, in themselves, are often the furthest thing from God. Even those we do genuinely love; we’re lucky if we also like them or want to spend any of our free time with them.
Of course I speak from experience on both sides of the track. I’ve struggled with loving others, and others, I am confident, have struggled with loving me.
I once heard someone say, and perhaps, you too have heard it said, “The person you love the least, that is the most you love Jesus Christ.”
Well, then I want to love everyone with all my being, right, because that is how I want to love the Lord!
Except, then I turn on my computer and realize that those people who make negative comments about my Catholic posts on Facebook are still around and it’s difficult to like them for that.
Then there are the people who ruin social situations because they cause everyone to cringe at every word that falls out of their mouths and it’s nearly impossible to feign any symptom of likeability around them.
Then there are the people who have no sense of ‘boundaries’ and feel at liberty to fling their weight and words at me like I’m a robot with no feelings who is not entitled to any reaction to them – not even a constructive one.
Then there are those that constantly disappoint me with their decisions.
Then there are the self-obsessed ones that are so me-oriented that I just want to roll my eyes at any mention of their ‘problems’ ("My convertible just got a dent and my lap-dog and I are ticked!" Boo. Hoo.).
Then there are the ones who make me uncomfortable because, historically, they’ve vocally declared their opposition to everything I hold sacred.
I’m sure that if I sat and thought about it some more I could add to my list of unlikeable people, but what would be the point? Friend or enemy, like or dislike, the mandate is the same: love ‘em. And so to the cyber bullying, socially inept, verbally abusive, and conceited let-downs of the world I go to show them the love of God! Wait, what?
“Lord, it’s just too hard,” I say often, and about many things. This last Sunday it was about loving one’s neighbor. “You’re the likable one, Lord! You are the easy one! They’re not!” But then, neither am I.
Sometimes I need reminding that I could place myself in any one of my own categories: cyber-bullying – not bullying, per se, however, I admit that I am guilty of leaving an angry comment around cyberspace at times. Socially inept? Sure, I have my moments where I’m the bonehead asking a stupid question or saying odd things. Verbally abusive? Well, yes, if I’m being very honest. My husband can attest to this (we’re within the first five years of marriage and we work on forgiveness a lot right now). Conceited? Yes, I’m tempted to consider myself 'above' others, or their superior at times (my kids temper this, bless their needy little souls). A let down? Now this one is humbling. Yes, I have let myself, those around me and God down at various times throughout my life. And to be sure, I’m not done in that department either.
So what makes me get up in the morning and try again? It’s simple, really simple.
I’m loved. By others, and by God out of His sheer goodness only. Think about that for a minute.
So if an unlikeable character like myself is loved by such a good God who has all the reason He needs to smote me from the earth, shouldn’t I at least attempt to extend this to others? And truthfully speaking, the times when I most needed someone to show they cared for me, I was probably at my worst, most unlikeable, humanly speaking. What a great mercy and severe reality-check it is to be truly loved.
So, I again I go to extend that olive branch to those who may cost me the most in terms of comfort and force upon me the pain of rejection or being bullied. But as cost goes, it’s the kind of cost where I have everything to gain, and nothing to lose by ‘paying the love of God forward.’ Yes, it's hurts, but I'd liken it to a growing pain that occurs when the membrane of your capacity to love expands. You know, the best kind of pain and the best sort of love: the kind that loves no matter what. God’s love for me and everyone.