18 Never seek revenge or cherish a grudge towards your kinsfolk; you must love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord
Leviticus 19:18 – REB
7 Let whichever of you is free from sin throw the first stone at her.
The sharp-eyed among my readers will have noticed that I’ve quoted a passage from Leviticus for today’s blog, the words of which are very similar to the one from the Letter of James that I chose last week.
If we’re honest, none of us remember many sermons from one year to the next, but I’ve never forgotten a sermon that I heard on this verse from Leviticus, several decades ago. The exhortation to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ is routinely referred to in the context of our Christian duty to love others. But what the preacher said, that I listened to all those years ago, was to state that in his opinion, you could not love your neighbour unless you also loved yourself, or at the very least were at ease with yourself. There is true wisdom in this. For reasons that may be clear to you, but weren’t to me, I’d never seen that interpretation in this verse.
The events of the last couple of weeks have reminded me of this, because our screens have been full of very angry people. It was, of course, only to be expected that cooping people up in their homes for more than two months would carry some psychological penalty, but I was still shocked by some of it; perhaps in particular the picture of the Black Lives Matter protester holding a placard which stated: “F*** Madeleine McCann”. The level of venom in that phrase against an abducted, abused and probably murdered small child absolutely took my breath away.
We are, as I write this, still in the middle of a debate about whether the statues and even the names of certain historical figures should be expunged from our public spaces. There have also been calls for books, paintings, films and television programmes to be withdrawn or even destroyed. There are several things that can and have been said about this, but what struck me most was that the historical figures subject to protest have been seen in absolutely binary terms.
Have we really lost the ability to accept that no-one is all ‘bad’, or all ‘good’?
How did we become a people who expect our ‘heroes’ to be absolutely without blemish and those with whom we disagree to be completely beyond any redemption?
I’ve been wondering whether this is partly caused by social media (which I don’t do), where people, I understand, like to portray themselves in a certain way, hiding anything that is less than perfect. This goes so much against the grain of what we are as human beings, that there is bound to be a price to pay for pretending that we are perfect.
The corollary of this seems to be that we look upon ourselves as a community and as a nation as being uniformly hateful, with not one single redeeming feature. Others have referred to this as a sort of national ‘self-loathing’. Personally, I find this spiritually draining and it strikes me that subliminally at least, there is a risk that some of this loathing of who we are as a people and as a nation may carry the risk of some of it turning inwards on ourselves, in this time when everyone is suffering from stress of one kind or another. All balance seems to have gone out of our way of looking at the world around us. This cannot, surely, be healthy?
The route out of this, it seems to me, must be through forgiveness? We are not stupid and we all know that underneath the surface we are on occasions not very nice people – this goes for absolutely everyone, without exception. Think of the person that you most admire, living or dead. If you view them as completely without fault, not only are you deluding yourself, you’re also not granting them the humanity they deserve. It’s also true that if we see someone else as beyond redemption, we deprive ourselves of humanity.
To be true to Christian ideals, maybe we need to grasp these things:
- We all, without exception, have faults and have done things of which we are, or should be, ashamed.
- Even those with whom we violently disagree have redeeming features, or have done good things; everyone is a mixture of good and bad.
- However bad we may have been, whatever terrible things we may have done to ourselves and to others, we are accepted and loved by God and not a single thing we can do can change that. That is the very definition of God’s character
- If we can bring ourselves to accept what we’ve done wrong and face up to it, then we are taking our very first steps on a pathway that will eventually lead to self-forgiveness and abandonment of self-loathing.
- If we can abandon self-loathing, then we can start to see others in a more balanced way and thereby eventually, perhaps, be able to forgive others and ‘love them as we love ourselves’.
Note: I am currently without a normal broadband connection and the temporary mobile-based version I have used to post this, is not robust enough to allow me to post pictures. As it is likely to be over a week before the service is resumed (apparently they have to dig up the road) I will only post next week, 28 June, if I can easily do so. Thank you for your understanding.