God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. (Genesis 1:31)
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:34-40)
The greatest commandment is the greatest because it sets a hierarchy of values. First comes love of God. Second comes love of neighbor, and we know how expansively “neighbor” is understood by Jesus through the example of the Good Samaritan. We love our community and by extension the world, as we live cooperatively with creation, and creation is good, a gift of God. Knowing that we are part of creation, it follows that love of self has a place because respecting ourselves places value on our unique contribution and purpose to God’s design.
The Four Loves (Swedenborg, 2000):
- Love of God
- Love of neighbor
- Love of community, and by extension creation
- Love of self
This ordering of “loves” reflects divine order established by God. When there is a disordering of “loves,” the consequences are severe. If love of self is placed at the highest priority, our motives and intentions become self-serving. We lose sight of others because we lack respect. By placing love of neighbor first, we lose sight of the proper relationship to God and truth. This distortion harms us because lack of truth and perspective leads us to actions that produce harmful circumstances, like attempts to control or manipulate others, inappropriate attachments, inappropriate boundaries, or other false understandings in our relationships. In loving our community first, we can become blind to the excesses of how we affect others. We place the needs of the group above the needs of the individual and lose sight of God’s revelation, that in loving those who are marginalized or alien to us, other parts of God’s creation, we love God. When we place love of God first, all the other “loves” are enhanced and nourished by truth and grace because we love out of goodness.
Gracious God, your creation came into being through love. Help us to learn the structure of your divine laws so that we may align ourselves with you for the highest good. May we find our purpose in love and may we enter into relationship through love. Grant us the wisdom to let love and truth guide us. Help us grow, and may we seek understanding through love. We give thanks God, for the love revealed to us in Jesus Christ. Amen.