By Talemoh Wycliffe Dah MD
Why would God command to love our neighbours as we love ourselves? Commandments against idolatry, adultery, theft, murder, false witnessing and even jealousy are understandable. But why command us to love others as ourselves? Even at that, why not just love somewhat rather than as we love ourselves? To even take this further, the New Testament says that he who hates his brother is a murderer. How so?
As Homo sapiens sapiens, we are not only related as a species and sub-species, we are also inter-related and inter-dependent in an ecology where whatever happens to one happens to all. We share the same challenges and victories, at the end of the day. The surest way to ensure safety for oneself is to ensure the safety of others and this applies to happiness, health, peace, wealth and all what we can tally as a state of complete wellbeing. The Almighty knew this, and is aware of our inherent selfishness which, in this context, will eventually lead to our self-harm; thus the commandment.
Even though the sky looks open, our world is an enclosure with an atmosphere and a gravitational pull that have limits, or that limit us. Like water in a cup, the entrance of any drop of dirt in one corner will eventually mean the whole cup is not clean. So the ozone layer depletes because of my actions and inactions, and the whole world suffers the warming effect, or, rightly put, the heating effect, because warming suggests something pleasant. If I kill or chase away my neighbor, I won’t have a neighbor, at least till he is replaced. If I hate my brother nobody will stand with me to fight our enemies, so I also lose. Any evil I aid or abet to happen to others eventually means harm to me, and this is not talking abstract Karma.
So we can use COVID 19 as a surrogate to explain why God gave the commandment to love others as ourselves. Protecting myself from infection with the virus means I am protecting others from being infected through me. Protecting others from getting infected means I am protecting myself from getting it from those same people. That’s love. Not loving means wishing someone to get it or die from it if he gets it. The person who has it would have just handed in the gate pass which is handed to you thereafter because we share gate passes. Or door knobs, the table we rest our hands on, ATM and POS command buttons, the air around us, tap heads, the cover or press buttons of even public hand sanitizers, etc. if you wish your neighbor well and he does not have it, you are safe; otherwise you are not. The effect is the same thing that will happen to you so the required and adequate level of love is that that is equal to the level you love yourself, meaning, obviously, that you do not want to be infected or die.
Loving ourselves has more to do with responsible living than a life of ease. The former is constantly guarding your health, reputation, etc while the latter is often indulging yourself. You get communicable diseases from others so you need to guard their own health (love them as you love yourself) so as to be healthy. It is easy to talk bad of someone who does badly rather than guarding their reputation. But, you see, when you destroy other people’s reputation, you soon develop the reputation of a Reputation Destroyer, so you actually hate yourself.
COVID 19 calls for responsible living as a definition for loving ourselves. We are inundated with advises which are not easy to follow but which we must heed – change your style of easing respiratory tensions, wash often, keep social distance, and so on. In doing these for ourselves, we also are loving others. In omitting to do them so we can enjoy a life of ease, we hate ourselves and subsequently hate others. No wonder the commandment to love was elevated to the highest position by our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. He also said for us to love our enemies and pray for them, including those who despitefully use us. When we pray for them not to contact corona virus, the virus will not get to us from what we have discussed above.
This vivid exposition by the corona virus of what it means to love others as we love ourselves should be extended to every area of our lives.
Other reasons God gave us the commandment include the fact that He loves those others (He created them), He wants the world to have an atmosphere full of love, He wants us to use love (forgiveness aspect of love) to break the cycle of violence and hatred so the earth will be full of His knowledge and glory and He wants humanity to come to the saving knowledge of Him and this can only happen when we love. In all these, as in the case of our surrogate, the corona virus, our good actions and wishes towards others leave us as the greatest beneficiaries.
▪ Dah, a consultant gynaecologist, is based in Abuja
By Talemoh Wycliffe Dah MD