Do you ever find yourself overwhelmed by all the need in the world? All the hurt, brokenness, and just plain junk that you wish you could do something about? Ever find yourself tempted to apathy, in part because there’s just no conceivable way you can care about every darn thing in the world, as worthy a cause or an issue as it may be?
I had a mini revelation (or reminder) today that I found encouraging – perhaps you will, too: Of the two greatest commandments given to humanity by God, one of them is not: “Love the whole world.”
Now, God loves the whole world – so much so, in fact, that he chose to sacrifice his only Son for the sake of redeeming that world. Our world. A big task, loving the world, but I dare say the Creator of worlds is equal to this task. He does not require so much of us, however. He simply commands us to 1) Love the LORD our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and 2) Love our neighbors as ourselves. “There is no other commandment greater than these” (see Mark 12:29-31). And Jesus famously tells his disciples, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” in John 15:13 (emphasis mine).
The whole world is loved, and I believe God is in the business of redeeming, healing, and making new the whole broken world (see John 3:16-17, Revelation 21:1-5). But that is not my task, nor yours. Our task is simply to love God, and to love our neighbors. (And of course, you see, if everyone did that, then the whole world would be loved…) Loving starts there, at the simplest level…which turns out to be not so simple after all, sometimes. Or not so easy, at least.
In The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Ivan Karamazov confides in his brother Alyosha, “I never could understand how it’s possible to love one’s neighbor. In my opinion, it is precisely one’s neighbors that one cannot possibly love…It’s still possible to love one’s neighbor abstractly, and even occasionally from a distance, but hardly ever up close” (Trans. Pevear, Volokhonsky, 236-237). Ivan has some of his ideas wrong, as the unfolding of the novel depicts (don’t worry – I won’t give any more spoilers than that). But I think he has some good points. Loving one’s neighbor is not easy; but at least the command to do so is a bit clearer (I think) than a vague, impassioned notion (however well-intended) of trying to love the whole, entire world all at once, right from the jump. And this nuance (focusing on loving one’s neighbor vs. loving the world) helps my concept of the kind of living I am responsible for (as a human and as a Christian) feel a bit – though, honestly, just a wee bit – less overwhelming.
Today, I find that thought comforting.