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Love my neighbor as myself?

From the May 2017 issue of The Christian Science Journal

It seems to trip people up. I’ve seen it often in my practice of Christian Science. A person comes to me seeking healing, and also wants to know how to increase the effectiveness of their own prayers—and we will be discussing the importance of understanding and living the two commandments Christ Jesus identified as the greatest of all commandments. The first is, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.” And the second, Jesus said, is just as important: “ ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ ” (see Mark 12:28–31, New Living Translation). Then I hear from my fellow spiritual seeker, “I’m not sure I love myself, so how can I love my neighbor as myself?”

It’s been helpful to me to see that second commandment as not asking us to love our, or another’s, human personality, which falls short of the divine ideal that is our true self. As human beings, we all have plenty of room for improvement. But it’s natural to care about our own welfare—about having a roof over our head, food on the table, clothes to wear, loving relationships, etc., and in that sense, we love ourselves. So, caring about another individual’s welfare in the same degree we care about our own would be an essential way of loving our neighbor as ourself.

But there’s more. The kind of unselfishness needed to be a Christian healer, as Jesus expected his followers to be, has to do with deriving our assessment of ourselves and others from what God knows and loves about us. That’s where the first commandment comes in, and why it is first. To understand what God knows, we need to know what God is, and what God does. Then we can truly love God with our all, and love ourselves and others as God loves us.

When you get right down to it, though, I’ve often heard people say—even when they have been learning about the good and loving nature of God through their study of the Bible and the Christian Science textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy—that they don’t know how to love God. Well, if that isn’t the work of the devil! But the devil isn’t a personality or power. It’s simply a lie—the material sense of existence that claims the ability to blind us from knowing the spiritual truth Jesus said would make us free from limitation and discord if we would continue to follow his teachings (see John 8:31, 32).

Of course, material sense has no cognizance of spiritual things—no ability whatsoever to know anything spiritual. No one can know anything about God, Spirit, or about man, Spirit’s creation, through the material senses. Nevertheless, we do have cognizance of such things as mercy, purity, justice, goodness, kindness, love, joy, harmony, and all the other spiritual qualities that define God and man. We know these things through spiritual sense, which we all have—and these senses witness to the fact that our true being is spiritual, not material. Through spiritual sense we can truly know and love God, ourselves, and others.

Love is what God is. And love is what Love does. Love expresses itself—and that expression is what we are, the expression of divine Love. That’s our real identity. That’s everyone’s true identity. Through spiritual sense we can discern and love the nature of God as Spirit, Life, Truth, Love, Mind, Soul, and Principle, seven Bible-based synonyms for God—and we can love ourselves and others as we truly are. 

Wow! Do you know what that means to me? It means we can love being God’s expression—and that is how we love God and our neighbor. 

We can love God by loving the spiritual qualities of God, and by loving to express these qualities in our thoughts and deeds. And we can love expressing God’s love for others by loving what God loves about them—the truth about them, that they are also Love’s own expression. This, of course, requires dedication to the highest kind of unselfishness—yearning for others to feel the love of God as much as we wish to feel it ourselves. It means caring enough for others that we refuse to be distracted from seeing their spiritual perfection by focusing on human imperfections. And as we love God and our neighbor in this way, we do feel God’s love for us; and others feel God’s love for themselves, as well.

This kind of loving is the spirit of Christian Science practice in action. It demonstrates—through the healing and transformation of character it brings—that God is indeed the only cause and creator, the only real power, and that whatever is unlike God has never even reached the point of existence, much less of power. 

It’s clear, then, that loving God and loving our neighbor are inextricably linked. We love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, by loving and being what God loves—Love’s very own expression. We can do that, because that’s what we are. And what’s not to love about that!

In Science and Health, Mrs. Eddy links the two great commandments as if they were one. She quotes the First Commandment in its original form, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” from Exodus 20:3, and then says: “The First Commandment is my favorite text. It demonstrates Christian Science.… One infinite God, good … fulfils the Scripture, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself;’ …” (p. 340).

Love your neighbor as yourself? Indeed. Just love being what you truly are. Let divine Love express its own redeeming and healing qualities in you—and love what God loves in each person who comes into the realm of your thought. In this way, you become an effective Christian healer—for yourself and others.

Barbara Vining

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