By far the world’s best-selling book is “The Holy Bible”. Despite its remarkable popularity, it is perhaps also the world’s most misunderstood book. Its archaic language, mysterious symbology, and bewildering prophecies are often confusing and lend themselves to a variety of interpretations. Even trained experts in biblical studies often disagree with each other’s interpretations of scripture.
However, there are also simply stated, easily understood passages of scripture that we find difficult to put into practice consistently. For example, the Bible tells us to be “like-minded” [Philippians 2:2], yet we struggle to find lasting common ground on countless issues. Jesus said “Love your enemies” [Matthew 5:44], but who among us doesn’t struggle with that?
At its core, the biblical message can be condensed to a single, easily understood principle. As the apostle Paul put it,
“For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” [Galatians 5:14]
‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ is also simple to understand yet difficult to put into practice. Why is it so hard for us to do something that seems so simple? Where have we gone wrong? Is there something that we’re missing?
In fact, there is. The problem is that our relationships are governed by the past, not the present. The good news is that we have the power to change this. Let me explain.
Our past experiences influence us both powerfully and subconsciously. When we view present experiences through the lens of the past, we obscure our perception of the present and deceive ourselves into thinking and behaving in ways that are not in our best interests.
We need a different way of viewing the past, particularly when we recall the unpleasant (sinful) behavior of others.
The father in Jesus’s Parable of the Lost Son [Luke 15:11-32] shows us how to do this. We’ve discussed this story before, but let’s look at it now from the father’s point of view.
The father takes God’s perspective on the unpleasant past behavior (sins) of others.
When his younger son disrupts the peace in the household by asking for his share of the inheritance in advance, the father divides his property between his two sons. Why does he do this? The younger son is denying reality by acting as though his father is already dead. The father can see that his son is not in his right mind. His son is perceiving an alternate reality that doesn’t exist. So he waits for his son to come to his senses.
The young man confirms his insanity by making poor decisions and living wildly. Soon his resources are gone, and he suffers starvation and nearly dies. When he finally hits bottom, he comes to his senses. He recognizes that he belongs in his father’s house and starts back home
Meanwhile, the father has been waiting for his younger son and anticipating his return. He sees him from a distance and runs to meet him, joyfully embracing him and escorting him home. He calls for a celebration and restores his younger son to his previous place. Why does he do this? He understands that his son had not been of sound mind. He can overlook and forgive his younger son’s actions because he knows that they do not reflect who his son really is. It’s as if the entire course of events, from the younger son’s departure to his return, had never happened. Why? Because in the father’s mind, it never did.
Now the younger son is right with the father. So is the problem solved? Not really. As they are celebrating, the father learns that his older son refuses to join in the celebration. He goes to his older son and listens to his grievances. The older son believes that his father’s treatment of his brother is not justified based on his brother’s past actions. So he is angry with both his father and his brother. The father is now aware that his older son is also perceiving an alternate reality. Once again, the present is being obscured by the past.
How does the father handle this? He brings his older son into the present by reminding him that he has everything and lacks nothing; he is in his father’s son. He also explains that the older son is creating a lack for himself in the present by disowning his brother. The father wants his entire family reunited, and he pleads with his older son to see his brother as he is, not as he was.
Is the older son persuaded by his father’s plea? We don’t know. Jesus ends the story there – deliberately. Why? Because we are the older son, and the decision is up to us.
If we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we see the situation in the same way as the older son. We believe people need to be held accountable for what they’ve done in the past. Actions have consequences, right?
But that’s not how the father views it. The lesson he wants us to learn is this:
The way to love your neighbor as yourself is to forgive sin in the manner he demonstrated. That is “The Bible Simplified”.
That is how the father’s household can be reunited. As “A Course in Miracles” explains,
“To love my Father is to love His Son.” [W-PII.246.h]
You demonstrate that you love God by loving others as yourself [1 John 4:21]. Remarkably, in this context, belief in God is not even required to do the will of God. You must only accept that so-called ‘sinful behavior’ does not reflect our true nature; it is nothing more than temporary insanity. It is in the past, and it does not follow us into the present.
In the final analysis, the decision is ours. We all ultimately play the role of both the younger son and the older son. We can make the decision to leave our insanity behind and return to our Father, allowing Him to guide us back to our heavenly home, as the younger son did. At the same time, we must love our neighbors as ourselves by recognizing that what we see as sins are simply acts of temporary insanity. When we are insane, we are not our true selves. Once we learn to love our neighbors as ourselves, we will leave our own insanity behind, and the world will be transformed.
Is this impossible? No. Jesus showed us how it’s done from the cross:
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” [Luke 23:34]
He saw that his tormentors were not of sound mind, not acting in keeping with their true identity. He simply overlooked their actions and forgave them. He encourages each of us to do the same. That is how the sins of the world are taken away.
Loving your neighbor as yourself is put into practice by forgiving sin in this way. Now that you know this, what will you do?
“ Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.” [1 John 2:10-11]
“For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” [Galatians 5:14-15]