Why is living in harmony important to us, why shouldn’t it be difficult, and how does it fit in with the overall theme of “Finding The Path To Freedom”?
Living in harmony is important to us because God says we are to love our neighbor.
It is impossible to love someone in the absence of some sort of harmony. At the least, harmony makes loving others easier, and thinking of the other person, trying to understand his or her position and circumstances in life, helps to create the harmony required.
In other words, we must learn how to have empathy for other people.
The first Biblical reference to the instruction to love our neighbors occurs when God is talking to Moses and giving him the law: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.” Leviticus 19:18 NIV
After that, the commandment to ‘love thy neighbor as thyself’ is repeated by Jesus several times in the New Testament.
Pay close attention to the wording used by Christ: “AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH. The second is this, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31 ESV (The emphasis is mine)
Were you paying attention? “Love thy neighbor as thyself’ is a commandment. It is not a suggestion, a request, or a passing thought. We are commanded by God to do this.
By and large, human beings fail miserably at this. I do not exclude myself from that group. In fact, I failed to uphold God’s commandment for the majority of my life, and that failure culminated in my conviction for possession of images of child sexual abuse.
While in prison, God gently guided me back through my life to help me see where I had sinned against Him. He did this, not out of a sadistic desire to hurt me, but out of His profound love for me so that I may begin to understand the events and situations that hardened my heart against Him and caused me to open the door to the evil that eventually controlled my life and, ultimately, almost cost me my life.
As a condition of my supervised release from prison, I attend weekly group counseling sessions. There are ‘homework’ assignments we are required to complete and each one has a specific objective. Working through each objective helps us to understand ourselves better, to grow as individuals, to mature, and to learn how to properly process – and deal with – negative situations in our lives, all of which had proved difficult for us to do in the past.
There are two of these ‘objectives’ which are extremely revealing, painful to work through, and quite liberating to complete. In ‘group’, completion requires ‘presenting’ the completed objective to the rest of the group, talking through it, and having everyone agree that the work put into the objective was thorough and sincere.
In a recent meeting, we were privileged to experience the presentation of one of each of those two objectives I just mentioned. The first presentation was made by me, and involved the cycle of my offense.
Preparing my presentation required taking everything God had allowed me to see and ‘plotting’ it on a ‘roadmap’ of sorts. That ‘roadmap’, while emotionally draining in its creation, helped me to clearly see how I progressed from being an innocent boy with an entire life full of promise before me, to being a 55-year-old man who lay dying in a pool of blood, from wounds caused by my own hands, on the floor of a shower stall in a dilapidated motel in south Florida while the FBI stood outside my door waiting to arrest me for the afore-mentioned crime.
With support, encouragement , and input from the rest of my group, I completed that objective and now have a much clearer picture of where the trouble started in my life, how I allowed it to take over my life and send me down a path of self-destruction, and how to work to prevent things from spiraling out of control in the future.
The other objective which was presented that night is one that awaits me in the near future. As difficult as the objective I presented was to complete and present, hearing the other person present his stunned me into the state of mind which prompted this article.
You see, the other objective involves the writing of 2 letters. One is from the victim’s point of view, written to ourselves. The other is a letter to the victim, from us, trying to explain our abhorrent behavior. Both of them requires us to find that part within us that contains our empathy for others. That ‘something’ within us that allows us to see things from another’s perspective.
In other words, to see the life of another human being through their eyes.
What I heard during that meeting demonstrated to me the remarkable ability of the writer to meet the requirements of the objective. It also set the bar for my turn at trying to empathize with the victims of my crime. In the case of the man who presented that night, as in my own, there were no real ‘victims’ in the sense that either of us had physical contact with anyone, but our crimes were most definitely not victimless. When viewed from the perspective of the children being abused to produce the videos and photos which we viewed and ultimately went to prison for possessing, our involvement was no different then that of the actual physical abuser who produced the material.
How shocking is the reality that we didn’t realize this before. How unnerving it is to realize we could not empathize with those poor children. I am grateful to God for His mercy, grace, and forgiveness which combined to save my life and afford me the continuing opportunity to learn what I should have learned a long time ago.
All of that is informative, but what does it have to do with most of the people who will read these words? Most decent people would experience no difficulty empathizing with the children who are the victims of sexual abuse.
But how about the neighbor who is a different color than we are? How about the person we work with who struggles to make himself understood in our language, even though he is college-educated in his own? How about the person who is in prison for crimes committed that might not have been committed were it not for the brutal, unloving, uncaring childhood he or she experienced? Is it possible to empathize with the boy who was horribly disfigured, castrated, and left for dead by Boko Haram in an attack on Christians in his village in Nigeria? Can we truly understand the lives of those around the world who struggle daily simply to survive while we complain that there is ‘nothing to watch’ on televisions with 300 available stations? Do we have empathy for the dirty, smelly, drunken homeless person asking us for a quarter?
The commandment to love is non-negotiable. It is a command from God, and God never changes. He is the only constant in an ever-changing world.
The need for empathy to love others is obvious. There is empathy in harmony, and there is harmony in love, so don’t simply say “I love my neighbor.” That is not enough. We must all strive for harmony, and to achieve harmony we must understand what it means to have empathy for others and try to see life through their eyes.
It is a much more difficult proposition to truly feel empathy for another human being than to simply say, “I love you.” It doesn’t have to be as difficult as we might think it is, but it does require effort on our part. The effort we make will be rewarded by helping us to walk more confidently on the “Path To Freedom.”
The old adage, “Walk a mile in my shoes” takes on new importance when we realize the ability to imagine what it is like to do that lies at the center of our ability to do as God commands.