This week’s essay continues my reflection on God’s declaration, “You are my beloved child; I’m happy with you.” If you try the experiment I suggest, please let me know how it goes.
Congratulations to Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Dr. Abiy Ahmed, for winning this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. May peace, justice, and reconciliation spread in Ethiopia.
Yours with gratitude,
In “The Divine Declaration,” I invited you to consider that God’s most basic message to you is the same as his only message to Jesus: “You are my beloved child. I’m happy with you.”
Inhaling and internalizing this divine declaration fills our being with dignity, peace, and joy. Before we have done anything or made something of ourselves, God declares his love for us and his delight in us – simply because we exist.
This divine declaration has powerful implications for our relationships with others and the moral quality of our society.
Imagine if we saw and treated others as people for whom God declares, “You are my beloved child. I’m happy with you.”
When we hear God’s declaration of love and precious value for the other, we can no longer see them as cheap or treat them with indifference. A holy curiosity is kindled in us to discover the brilliance and beauty of God in the other person. Prejudice is preempted. Hate is halted. A sense of wonder and reverence emerges in our relationships with others. Whoever this person is, they’re someone God loves and delights in.
When I embrace the divine declaration for myself and realize that it is also God’s most basic declaration for others, a profound shift in ethical consciousness begins. I live among God’s children, people in whom God delights, those for whom God’s will is goodness and flourishing (see Matthew 5:43-48).
As I reflect on God’s declaration of love, I find it endlessly profound that Jesus does not command, “Love your neighbor and hate yourself” or, “Love your neighbor instead of yourself.” Jesus’s ethics is not negative or reactionary but positive and creative. Jesus commands, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus’s basic assumption is that my self is precious and worthy of cherishing. And when I have deeply internalized the preciousness of my own life – indeed, when I am liberated to love my self – I am set free to see and celebrate this preciousness in others. I want to love them.
According to Jesus, the ultimate task of life is to share this cherishing with every other person. I no longer see people as insiders, outsiders, and enemies. I see them as neighbors, people who are near and dear to me simply because they exist. Neighbor-love creates a radical moral equality between persons that is not simply tolerant but actively caring.
In his brilliant book The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin wrote, “I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hate so stubbornly is because once the hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with the pain.” Baldwin is referring to the deep emptiness we feel inside, the war-making question within us about whether our life has any intrinsic significance. To hide or numb this pain, we fabricate a sense of value by diminishing and demeaning others. We make ourselves feel higher by making others lower. Our value is measured by power.
But when we receive the divine declaration, “You are my beloved child; I’m happy with you,” we are liberated to face that inner emptiness and the pain inside our selves. The voice of condemnation and self-destruction is boldly confronted with divine love and delight. Simultaneously, we are liberated from the root of hate. We no longer need to view others as higher or lower than ourselves but as precious equals in whom God delights, just as God delights in us – simply because we exist.
I invite you to try an experiment. When you walk down the street, interact with colleagues, buy groceries, talk politics, or come home to your family, make eye-contact with others and hear God’s voice declare, “That is my beloved child; I delight in them.”
When we do this, something profound begins. Cemented boundaries between insider, outsider, and enemy soften. A new openness to the preciousness of others emerges. We appreciate one another’s complexity and depth. New community becomes possible.
Of course, this moral vision is risky because it exposes us to unprecedented levels of joy and suffering. But it also promises to overcome so much of the raw division, conflict, and violence between us.
Loving your neighbor as your self means loving the other as someone for whom God has declared, “You are my beloved child; I’m happy you exist.” Hearing this voice and translating it into how we see and treat others is our most important vocation and the meaning of everyday life. It is the good life.