When someone asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was he answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” He went on to say “The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 30-31) Today I want to focus on the second commandment which is, in essence, the flip side of the first.
As Christians we are called to love our neighbor. Most people know this. But just who should we consider our neighbor? I’ve heard lots of different answers to this over the years and almost all of them have had to do with people living in the present. Almost twenty years ago I came across a book that helped me understand Jesus’ commandment in a whole new light. That book was Robert Parham’s Loving Neighbors Across Time: A Guide to Protecting the Earth. In this book Parham claims “the looming environmental crisis demands that we revisit the governing principle of love for neighbor, expanding it from a purely spatial perspective. We must think about love for neighbor in terms of time.” He insists that “we must see those who live in the year 2050 as our neighbors, as real neighbors. Our unseen great-grandchildren and those of others are as much our neighbors as our present family members and the family living next door.” When you think of it this way it soon becomes clear that “the only way we can love our neighbor across time is to leave them a decent place to live.”
In the conclusion to one chapter he says, “Global warming, ozone-layer depletion, and multiple forms of pollution are three massive earth threats. They assault human life everywhere and jeopardize our entire ecosystem. However, their impact on today’s world is probably far less adverse than it will be on future generations.” Parham believes the time to act is now and that “we must view present-day reforms and initiatives as an insurance policy for the future.”
I realize that the concept of loving neighbors across time will be new to many but it makes perfect sense. If we are going to fulfill what Jesus called “the greatest commandment” then we must take better care of the earth now so that those who come after us will be able to enjoy, benefit and be blessed by it. Love demands we do no less.
(The image above was taken at Irwin Pond in the Hiwatha National Forest. The beauty of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan must definitely be preserved for future generations!)