The author of “1 John” makes a simple, blunt, very logical analysis of our emotional attachments – or professed attachments. (1 John 4:20)
If you do not love your brother whom you can see, how can you love God whom you cannot see?
Well, John, that’s easy! We do it all the time. God is always here – our neighbors aren’t so near and obvious. Plus – no offense – but God is just generally “nicer,” easier to deal with, than many of our neighbors.
But no, this John, who sees much more clearly than most of us, sees it differently.
If you cannot love the present real persons in your life, you cannot be truly loving the not-so-present, not so in-your-face God that you imagine you are loving.
I say “you” because John said “you”, and because we must feel it personally. But it’s really WE. How can WE love the invisible God if we do not love our very visible brother / neighbor?
Now how does that logic apply to a slightly different situation – what about persons whose lives intersect yours only because some tv network, or preacher, or politician, or popular magazine happened to feature them – in order to make money or otherwise manipulate us?
Truth be told, some of those distant persons are suffering because of OUR activity / inactivity or because of deeds being done in our name. For example, many of the people the President is excluding from the US, people from largely Muslim or largely Arabic nations, are in fact fleeing danger and chaos our bombs and invasions and armament sales have helped create.
Nevertheless the Bible does seem to put some emphasis on proximity. That might be just because back in those days most people never had any practical awareness of people who lived more than a few miles away. If you were going to love, it had to be people nearby. But certainly we are expected to think and act in love toward fellow humans wherever they are.
Still, what about my literal neighborhood? My own city?
- Kids living near US – near you – are going without school textbooks or other necessities of teaching and learning, while enormously costly mansions are being built out on the edges of town, or down the highway.
- People in nursing homes close to you are not getting the care and courtesy that human decency demands, so their relatives have to go in and take care of them, even though thousands of dollars are changing hands every month to pay for that care and decency they do not get.
- Our great nation is locking up a much higher percentage of the young people from your city than is the case in comparable cities of any other ‘advanced’ nation.
- People who wait on you as fast-food clerks or bank tellers are literally not making a living wage.
This clear Biblical moral priority bites all of us. It is not easy to know how to love these people.
It’s much easier to walk on by people just a few miles from us, and instead be angry and disturbed about – for example – a far distant Terri Schiavo case (2005). I do know that people all over my part of the state were discussing that case, and often with considerable emotion, while almost no-one was – or is – talking about the school funding crisis, or the lousy care in some nursing homes, or the impossible-to-live-on incomes of so many people here, or the frightening number of our friends and neighbors who are now or have recently been in jail or prison.
I do know that
- Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
- And John said, “If you do not love your [neighbor] whom you can see, how can you [claim to] love God whom you cannot see?”
- And Jesus said, “Why do you call me, Lord, Lord, and do not do what I say?”
- Jesus also said, “You ought to have done this and not left the other undone.”
So I respond with a modification of the prayer one father said to Jesus in Mark 9,
Lord, I do believe in and love You.
I deeply respect your intelligence and insight, your moral priorities.
Help me to love and respect you – and therefore my neighbors – more practically and effectively, more presently, more fully, more realistically here where I live.