“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind... You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
— Matthew 22:37, 39 (NRSV).
Love, via the passions that compel us, persists in two planes: one is relational by real body-to-body, mind-to-mind and soul-to-soul rapport; the other is usually not relational at all—by our typical understanding—our material worship. Or, what competes for our ‘worship’. Of course, this is where the Christian has the keys to the Kingdom—they have converted the vertical plane of love into a relationship; or, more correctly put, they have been bought by God into a relationship with their Creator.
The Horizontal Love
The second part of Jesus’ Great Commandment is conditional on the first. We cannot love others as God intends without loving God. But it is better for us to deal with the horizontal love first, in this article, so we can see what underpins it—the vertical love, or our love for God and his love for us.
We love others only in apportionment to the love we have for God. If we don’t know God or don’t love him, our love of others is very conditional; it’s hit-and-miss at best. Fear still has too much control.
This horizontal love is the giving over of ourselves for another person, much in the tradition of Jesus’ final instruction to his disciples the night he was betrayed: we are to give ourselves for our friends, being prepared to die for them. In actuality, this is about dying to ourselves more so than physically dying.
Dying to self when it comes to another person is the main test of this horizontal love.
The Vertical Love
We cannot truly understand and therefore enact the horizontal love unless we have discovered the vertical love God has for us. The moment we understand how much God loves us—where we are truly enamoured of Jesus’ sacrifice for our personal gain—to be reconnected with God—is the moment life begins again.
What this means is life is reframed. Our lives come to true life.
Life takes on a significance previously undetected. Life begins to make sense in a way we always hoped it would. With the eyes of our hearts opened we are able to see as God would wish us to see. Then we see all the needs around us; the needs of others.
This vertical love compels the horizontal love; to give ourselves over to it.
There are two great loves: love for God (and God’s love for us) and our love of humankind and all creation. This is the beginning and ending of life. These are the means and ends of life. We only ‘get’ life when we live these two great loves.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.