The Root of Love for the Neighbor
On Sunday, Lord willing, we will see how the church handled challenges that arose within its ranks. The scenario revolves around community care for the widows of the church. I am slowly working through Bavinck’s The Wonderful Works of God, and the mentioning of widows in the section I am in makes some connections to consider. The chapter in Bavinck is about humanity’s highest good. The first sentence not only states the main point but also the main reality we must feel amid all other goods we enjoy in this world — God, and God alone, is man’s [humanity’s] highest good. He goes on to write of the necessity that “this good [be] also recognized and enjoyed.” Here is the connection with widows sandwiched in between other ways good is accomplished. It is a little lengthy but provided food for thought:
As for culture, civilization, humanitarianism, the life of society, or whatever one may call it, that, too, cannot be denominated the highest good of man. No doubt we have some right to speak of a kind of progress in humanitarian ideas, and of development in philanthropy. When we compare how the poor and the sick, the miserable, and the destitute, the widows and the orphans, the insane and the imprisoned were frequently dealt with in former ages with the way in which they are very generally treated now, we certainly have cause for happiness and gratitude. A spirit of tenderness and mercy has come up which seeks out the lost and has compassion upon the oppressed. But right alongside this our present time shows us such a fearful pageantry of gruesome vice, of mammonism, prostitution, alcoholism, and like abominations, that we are embarrassed to answer the question whether we are moving forwards or backward. At one moment we are optimistic, but the next we are plunged into deep pessimism again.
Be that as it may, this much is sure, that if the life of service for humanity, of love for the neighbor, is not rooted in the law of God, it loses its force and its character. After all, the love for one’s neighbor is not a self-vindicating thing which comes up quite spontaneously and naturally out of the human heart. It is a feeling, rather, and an action, and a service, which require tremendous willpower and which must be constantly maintained against the formidable forces of self-concern and of self-interest. Moreover, such love of the neighbor frequently gets little support from the neighbor himself. People generally are not so lovable that we should naturally, without exertion and struggle, cherish and love them as we do ourselves. Indeed, the love for the neighbor can maintain itself only if on the one hand it is based on, and laid upon us, by the law of God, and only if on the other hand that same God grants us the desire to live uprightly according to all his commandments.
What do you think? Did Bavinck get it right?