For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
I sometimes wonder if people’s ideology including their religion gets in the way of them being human. I should include myself in that, my ideology and religion too. Of course, there will be those who immediately counter with the point that it’s not about religion which they’ll say is wrong, but about a relationship. To which I might say that any practice of faith can be understood as religion, either empty or good (see end of James 1).
Paul is getting at what it means to be free in the redemption and life that follows in Christ. It’s about love, not about measuring up to some standard imposed by others or ourselves. Are we loving others face to face, just as they are? And are we doing that in spite of all our differences? Or are we judging them as somehow unworthy as if we are somehow worthy? I know people will say that they are made worthy by Christ and that others without faith have no such worth. But isn’t that sweeping by what is plainly taught in Scripture, that love of neighbor is not dependent on religious status (consider Jesus’s parable of the good Samaritan).
I think oftentimes atheists or agnostics might love better than religious folks who identify as Christians. It seems to me that our religion or ideology too easily becomes more important than what actually ought to be the point of it: love for all. I believe I know this firsthand. When you might point that out and try to help another see that their practice of religion may not really be helping them to love all and be loved, then they’ll see you perhaps as divisive, or questioning faith.
But isn’t the point of faith, love? And what does it mean to be human except to love? That sums up everything. To love through all of life in every situation. Just what that looks like can be challenging, and that’s where Scripture and faith can help. But to make love the priority is at the heart of what it means to be human, what we might say God’s intention for humanity is.
And Jesus is called the human one (instead of son of man) in one translation of Scripture (CEB). Humanity is restored in Jesus, and in true humanity nothing else matters at all if it is not animated by love. How that works out is sometimes most challenging in this life, and Scripture in major part is given to us to help us work through that. But make no mistake: God simply wants us to be human as human is meant to be. Which means we’re to love and be loved. Including loving our enemies, those who hate us.
As we seek to do this, we’ll begin to find our true humanity, atheists and the nonreligious included. And for us as followers of Christ, through the human one who loved as no one ever has though misunderstood and maligned by others, we will be in the process of recovering our true humanity, face to face with others, face to face with Christ. Our humanity and the humanity of the other will ultimately become the thing that matters and bonds us together in love. In and through Jesus.