Monday, October 6, 2014

As I Have Loved You

Views expressed here are according to the personal understanding of the author, and do not represent official doctrine or policy for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or any other religious body. Respectful discussion is encouraged and appreciated. 

During #ldsconf October 2014 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder Dallin H. Oaks gave a talk (Saturday Afternoon session) which spoke of the "new commandment" Christ gave to his Apostles during the last part of his mortal ministry. As Elder Oaks states, "That commandment was simple, but difficult: 'Love one another as I have loved you.'"

Immediately, my mind jumped to another commandment, given at many points of the Bible and other scripture--the command to "love thy neighbor as thyself."

Here we have two commandments on how to love those around us. First, we are to love them as we love ourselves--this is the Old Testament, Law-of-Moses version. It assumes self-love, and is quite basic in requirement. From such a command come such basic social truisms as "The Golden Rule: DO unto others as you would have them do unto you." Fairly sensible: if you want people to be nice to you, be nice to people. If you can't take it, don't dish it out. Seems fair. 

The next level, the "New Commandment," requires us to love the people around us as Christ has loved us. This takes out the idea that if we don't care about the way people treat us, we don't have to treat them well. It takes out the idea that "turnabout is fair play." In fact, one could argue that this New Commandment transcends the idea of fairness, entirely. We no longer base our relationships and the way we treat others on how well they treat us, what they have done, or how we feel. We are simply commanded to love them in the manner that Christ has loved us. Not in the manner that Christ loves them, because that is beyond our understanding. But while the love of Christ may be beyond our *understanding,* it is not beyond our experience. He is not placing the burden of understanding upon us right at the start--He is telling us to emulate Him--to copy Him. One of the first skills we learn as toddlers is to "do as I'm doing, follow, follow Me." 

As spiritual toddlers, He is again asking us to do that. 
     He shows us, in our daily lives, that we can eventually perfectly love people. We see what He does for us, and He promises that eventually we will have that capacity, if we start learning now. He teaches us by example. In order for us to learn what He is teaching, He asks us to look for, see, and express gratitude for the blessings He gives us, the people He places into our lives, the words He has sent through the prophets,  the knowledge and understanding we have already obtained, the mercy He extends, and the promises He has given. The Lord speaks all the "love languages," and knows and understands each individual perfectly. He knows exactly what we need, and the hand of God is evident in the lives of anyone willing to look. If we struggle at first to see Him in our own lives, we have been given many accounts of scripture in which Christ demonstrates love. We can look to the ministry of Christ in the scriptures, looking for ways that He loved those in his mortal sphere of influence. This will allow us "spiritual glasses," to help us see better the hand of Christ in our own lives. 

He shows us this love, and offers us promises of eventually reaching that ability ourselves, but the Lord understands that perfect love can only come with perfect understanding. As we don't have that (and cannot understand another person perfectly) He does not ask us to love them as He loves them. He simply asks us to love them as He loves us. Because we have the capacity to see that love in our own lives, even if we don't understand it or feel we deserve it. To emulate those things that He does for us, as closely as possible, within our associations with the people around us, is a step He has asked us to take in this life to become more like God. As we practice these skills of showing love as consistently and in the manner that Christ has, before we have perfect understanding (or perfect love), our understanding and love for those people will increase. Why? Because with obedience to any law comes a blessing associated with that law. If we set our personal feelings aside and love others (love being an action, not an emotion) the way that Christ loves us (by emulating His actions) he can bless us with a greater capacity to love, and a softening of the heart which leads to good feelings, unity, empathy, and prosperity as a human family.

He does not ask us to come up with lovey-dovey feelings or a fake front of feigned emotion. He asks us for action. He can then bless us with a REAL change of heart, as our intention is good, our heart facing the Lord, and our feet moving in the right direction. Don't just try to FEEL "love" for other people. Act in love. Act in the way the Lord has shown us, and He will give us real love--charity, the love of Christ--without which, we are nothing. It is a gift, and we have been given the instructions we need to allow the Lord to grant it to us. 

~~~el fin