Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏩ ⏹️
Heart Of Gold, by Peter Nottrott, © Saatchi Art
But take diligent heed to do the commandment and the law, which Moses the servant of the Lord charged you, to love the Lord your God, and to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, and to cleave unto him, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.
— Joshua 22:5
The tribes of Reuben, Gad and half the tribe of Manassah are leaving Israel to return to Gilead, on the east side of the Jordan, where they had requested land from Moses before the Israelites crossed into Canaan. Recognising the danger of Israel being thus split by the Jordan river, Joshua urges the tribes to stay true to God that Israel may stay whole. The wording of this imperative is echoed in the gospels as the greatest commandment1 and essentially encompasses the first four of the ten commandments, without which a state of lawlessness will prevail, under which the remaining commandments (love thy neighbour) cannot be kept.
In current times, in secular tradition, we talk about love of self as being a prerequisite to loving others. The concept of self-love has long been something that disturbed me, finding myself at odds with the society in which I live, where it is valued and revered by the vast majority. Whole libraries of books exist on how to love yourself. I am skeptical of all of them, seeing only self-indulgence, self-will, and self-righteousness. It was in embracing Christian tradition that I was able to understand that what secularists mean by self-love is actually an unmet (and in the case of the atheist, an unmeetable) need for God-love.
Surrendering to the actual God, for me, removed the need for self love. As I love God, so I am loved, wholly and completely exactly for who I am. Treating myself—my mind, body, spirit—with kindness thus becomes an act of worship, but cultivating self-love becomes unnecessary; it could only ever be a flaccid imitation of the great love that flows from, through, and back to God. Self-love is static, only here, now. God-love is dynamic. It moves through space and time, through ages and incarnations. No wonder the devout throughout the Bible narrative emphasise this love so strongly. It is the bedrock of faith—and not just Abrahamic faith. God-love, in one form or another is the focus of most religious traditions. Self-love is a modern invention, a reflection of our individualistic society, a desperate attempt to fill the gap left when God was rejected from our collective consciousness.
1E.g. Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. — Matthew 22:37