let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. and by this we know that we are of the truth and shall assure our hearts before him. for if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart and knows all things. beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God. and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do what is pleasing in His sight. and this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as he gave us commandment. now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him and He in him. and by this we know that He abides in us, by the spirit whom He has given us. –I John 3:18-24
So this is the task. We must love one another in truth and action. Who could accomplish this? Where does one even begin? We are to love our neighbor as ourselves, Scripture tells us; we are to love our neighbor, all men, without distinction, even in their sin and imperfection. Ask yourself if you are capable of such a love. Is this not one of the most difficult of tasks for a human being? Yet, this is what we are called to do for Love is the fulfillment of the law. Love in truth also calls us to bear the burdens of our neighbors (Galatians 6:2). We are to help each other along in life by sharing the load and weight of our sin and suffering between ourselves. Dare I say we are even to become responsible for the sins of all men, in a sense, because in that way we show true equality among every man. So this is the task. Who could accomplish this in truth?
A young man sets out to perform this task. He professes his love for every man that he sees; he feels within him that this is a true feeling. He believes he is expressing love for his neighbor as he should. How long would you say this man could keep up this enthusiasm? One would be mistaken if he were to say that this is something he could maintain for the rest of his life. It is inhuman, he might say. Who is so strong that he sees all men without distinction and can love them, even in their sin and imperfection? He laments his inability to perform the task efficiently and so he contents himself with showing Christian brotherly love only on occasion, or when the opportunity so presents itself. I ask you though, is he any longer performing the task? The answer is no. Yes, he is right to lament, for no human alone can accomplish so strenuous a feat. The young man has missed a vital step. Man is a finite creature, bound by necessity and temporality; he is prone to worldly wants and often places absolute value in relative, finite ends. This is his condition: despair. Yet, this despair is not a condition that man is incapable of escaping from. He has only one true escape: relation to God. Yes, so the code has been cracked. I give up the finite world and all its disappointments, the man says. He chooses only God and lives with his focus entirely on eternity and the infinite of God’s nature and power. Though I say still that he has not changed his condition; he is still in despair. What? How could this be possible? Dear one, you have devoted yourself to the infinite and the eternal, but you are forgetting the most important thing: you are a finite, temporal being. No matter how long you try to escape into the infinite, the finite will always be there, demanding from you that you return to its grasp. Now, what is the man to do? The finite world has been resigned away to infinity, and yet not even infinity alone can provide him the eternal happiness he seeks. You are so close, friend, do you not see the answer?
Perhaps, he cannot see the answer because it is absurd. A human being is a spirit; he is a synthesis of the infinite and the finite, the temporal and eternal. This is why you have failed for so long, friend. You have not understood the reality of your condition. You have made the step of infinity and resigned the finite world away and chosen the infinite, but you cannot exist there: you must return to the finite eventually. He is where the difficulty lies: after resigning away the finite, you take it back. This is the paradox of faith, as Kierkegaard calls it. What? That is just ludicrous! Yet, this is the task. Death to immediacy and worldly desires, no doubt, causes suffering within us but this suffering is precisely the Christian’s strength. You are a finite being with the eternal abiding in you and you are called to love your neighbor as yourself. Do you see now the step you missed? This as yourself is an implication that must precede the action of loving one’s neighbor. Too often have people not grasped the power of this statement; too often have they forgotten the first step that must be taken.
Jesus says in Matthew 6:33 that we must seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness before we can become like the bird of the air or the lily of the field; before we can truly live as a Christian ought to live. Furthermore, Philippians 2:1-16 details that we must first receive blessings like love, freedom, purpose and consolation from God before we can ever experience them in our own lives or spread them to others. In other words, we cannot love in truth until we have entered into a relationship with God. The paradox of faith is the infinite passion with which we are able to love our neighbor in full and it will be an eternal love, a divine love; first, we must experience the inwardness of faith before we can love another in truth. This task you thought was so easy at first has now just become the most difficult task a human being can undertake – but also the most rewarding.
In expressing true love for our neighbor, we must, in truth, become a neighbor ourselves. By becoming a neighbor ourselves we see the need for brotherly love. It teaches us to be compassionate towards our fellow man. Yes, indeed another paradox has come up in this discussion: we must become servants of one another to gain true freedom. Only in loving one’s neighbor do we achieve Christian freedom. We are also given equality. The irony is that the world, in not professing love for one’s neighbor on the account that it makes one unable to do what he wishes, there is more disunity and slavery because their absolute relation is to a relative ends. This is not so for the Christian. His task is eternal, for his neighbor is always before him and his love is an infinite love.
Dostoevsky writes: Love man also in his sin, for this likeness of God’s love is the height of love on Earth. So this is the task. Who could accomplish it? The answer to this question is that everyone has the ability to do so; specifically you. This is your calling and your task as an individual in relation to God. He loved you in your sin and you shall, in the likeness of Christ, love every man, without distinction, even in their sin and imperfection. The task has been set: you know what you must do.