“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37)
The theologian Richard Niebuhr has said that agape, which I call Godlike love, is compassion. I have repeated that because I think it makes it easier to love your enemies in the sense of compassion than in the sense of affection. So like God, you will treat your enemies in loving ways despite the fact that you may not like them or even despise them in some way. In essence, you will be kind to them, no matter how you feel about them or how they feel about you or treat you. But in my recent thinking I have been led to a higher standard. Why would I even feel compassion for someone I do not like or who I find despicable in some way? That must come from loving them in some sense.
Richard Niebuhr also says that we should feel non-possessive eros for God, eros being the Greek word for what we would call romantic love. I have no trouble feeling romantic love for God, since romantic love is a feeling we have for someone who is desirable. And God, whose very nature is love is certainly always desirable. I enjoy and am inspired by God’s Divine Beauty which I experience within as incredible unconditional and unlimited love for me and every person and thing he has created.
Yet according to Genesis 1:27, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” If we are all created in God’s image, we all have the same Divine Beauty within us that God has. In some people that Divine Beauty shines through clearly and even brilliantly. In others it is hard for anyone else, or even themselves to see. Yet it is there, whether we see it or not. And that is the basis for having compassion for them, despite who they are.
Jesus makes this very clear in his parable in Matthew 25:31-46. Parables are not allegories. They have one point. And in this parable that one point is that how we treat other people is how we have treated God himself in Jesus Christ. Jesus mentions people who are hungry or thirsty or a stranger or sick and in prison, a motley collection of people who are too frequently ignored or even despised in some way. And the point of the parable is stated both negatively and positively. Negatively, when Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do to one of the least of these of these, you did it not to me. And positively, when Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”
So because we are all made in the image of God, we have his Divine Beauty within us, even if we do not realize it and thus do not appreciate it. Indeed God’s whole creation has his Divine Beauty in it for us to find and appreciate and take care of with loving kindness. Therefore, I think we need to see and appreciate the Divine Beauty in the people and world around us, even more in these pandemic times. I have been blessed with knowing and loving people though whom God’s Divine Beauty shines brightly. And I appreciate the beautiful springtime blossoms in the world around me, under a bright blue sky, and even the rain that brings them.