Needed: Awareness of God, Awareness of Others, Awareness of Self
“You must love Jehovah your God . . . You must love your neighbor as yourself.”—Mark 12:30, 31.
WE NEED to see ourselves as we are, how we are made, what history has revealed about us. What course has proved to be the practical one, the beneficial one?
We are fleshly, but we also have a spiritual side. Shall we be like hedonists, catering always to the flesh? Or like ascetics, punishing the flesh to exalt the spirit?
Of course, the Bible does not favor hedonism. And contrary to the examples of some religions, the Bible does not favor asceticism either: “True, it has an air of wisdom, with its forced piety, its self-mortification, and its severity to the body; but it is of no use at all in combating sensuality.”—Col. 2:23, The New English Bible.
The Bible favors not extremism but balance and reason. “Let your reasonableness,” it says, “become known to all men.” (Phil. 4:5) If we glut the flesh, the spirit starves. If we become fanatical in our approach to spiritual matters, the flesh suffers. Care for the flesh without becoming materialistic: “Having sustenance and covering, we shall be content with these things.” The flesh is important, but the spirit is far more important: “The spirit of a man can put up with his malady; but as for a stricken spirit, who can bear it?” So it is vital to be aware of the spirit’s needs: “Happy are those conscious of their spiritual need.”—1 Tim. 6:8; Prov. 18:14; Matt. 5:3.
You Need to Love Yourself
Love yourself? Doesn’t that sound like the Me generation talking? No, for this is not the self-centered love of the mythological Narcissus, which ruled out the possibility of truly loving others. It is, in fact, necessary to love yourself before you can love others. Modern psychology knows this, but it was acknowledged 35 centuries before today’s psychology. Moses wrote at Leviticus 19:18: “You must love your fellow as yourself.” You are to love yourself, and your neighbor as yourself.
We are to love ourselves in the sense of caring for ourselves, respecting ourselves, having a sense of our self-worth. To be able to do this we must measure up to what we know to be right in God’s eyes, to what our properly trained and sensitive conscience expects of us. If we fail we are displeased with ourselves and feel guilt and blame. Unhappy with this state of affairs, we try to shift this blame to others, and it spoils our relationships with others.
This is illustrated in the case of Adam and Eve. They knew what was the right thing to do. When they did the opposite they hid from God because they felt guilt. When he confronted them, both of them tried to shift the blame—Adam to his wife, and to God for giving him this woman; Eve shifted hers to the serpent. (Gen. 3:12, 13) Adam could no longer feel genuine love or respect for himself, and it spoiled his relationship with both his wife and God. Eve also tried to shift blame so that she could clear herself and thus respect herself. But, with persons whose conscience is not totally seared, guilt is not dissolved this way. We may try, but we do not fool ourselves, and our inner displeasure gets in the way of our loving others. You do need to love yourself.
You Need to Love Others
Modern psychology also recognizes this need. Psychoanalyst Willard Gaylin said in the January 1979 Atlantic magazine:
“There is no such thing as individual survival. The human being is human because of the nurture of other human beings, and without this will not survive. Or if love and caring are supplied only minimally, he may survive as a biological entity without the qualities of humanness that elevate him above the common animal host. Even after development, if at any key point an individual is withdrawn from contact with his kind, he may re-create in his imagination social relationships that sustain him for a time, but he suffers the risk of being reduced to an animal.”
Psychoanalyst Otto Kernberg, in the June 1978 issue of Psychology Today, said:
“All other things being equal, there is something that happens to one in a deep relationship with someone else which brings great satisfaction to the individual. . . . And when this can’t be attained, one feels emptiness and chronic dissatisfaction.”
We need recognition from others and to be accepted by them. The best way to receive is to give, as Jesus showed: “Practice giving, and people will give to you. They will pour into your laps a fine measure, pressed down, shaken together and overflowing. For with the measure that you are measuring out, they will measure out to you in return.” (Luke 6:38) There is happiness in receiving, but more in giving. To give our love exercises it and makes it grow, increases our capacity to love others; and we reap their love in return. Love others first, and in this way cause them to love you. This is shown by the love Jehovah has shown to appreciative mankind: “As for us, we love, because he first loved us.”—1 John 4:19; Acts 20:35.
Small children need to learn the importance of loving others. The value of their playing with others of their age is that it teaches them that they cannot always have their own way, cannot always do their own thing, cannot always be me-first. Small children tend to demand their own way, but they soon learn that the price of companionship is that others must have their turn at being first. Me-firsters end up lonely.
You Need to Love God
We are tiny nothings compared to the size of the earth, which is tiny compared to our sun, which is a small star among billions in our Milky Way. The Milky Way galaxy is only one of billions in the universe. In its vastness we are microscopic and totally insignificant—unless the God who made the universe made us, cares for us, has a purpose for us. He does, and for this reason alone our lives can have purpose and meaning. He loves us; we need to love him. This is a point emphasized repeatedly in the Bible. A religious writer, Leslie K. Tarr, contrasted the me-first philosophy with Christianity, saying:
“The gospel of self-interest strikes at the heart of all that is noble in our culture and is diametrically opposed to the Christian gospel. ‘Looking out for number one’ is the battle cry of a new barbarism. The gospel is a summons in another direction. Its appeal is to deny yourself, take up the cross, . . . turn the other cheek, and go the second mile. In contrast, that call to ‘look out for number one’ sounds shabby. . . . The inward-oriented gospel, in its secular and religious forms, is a far cry from the message which directs our eyes first toward God and then outward toward others.”—Toronto Star, November 25, 1978.
The respected historian Arnold Toynbee spoke of the serious morality gap confronting us, and of science he said:
“It has not helped him [man] to break out of the prison of his inborn self-centeredness into communion or union with some reality that is greater, more important, more valuable, and more lasting than the individual himself.”—Surviving the Future, by Arnold Toynbee.
The modern gurus of Me-ism avidly pursue the Me rainbow with floods of me-first books, and try to find their ‘pot of gold.’ But thousands of years of human history have revealed that no lasting benefit has resulted from human philosophies. “Wisdom is proved righteous by its works,” and human wisdom has no such proof. (Matt. 11:19) Men may scoff and say that the Bible wisdom is impractical, but the fact remains that the world has never tried it—not love of God; not love of neighbor; not even the proper love of self. And certainly not the Golden Rule that Jesus proclaimed: “All things, therefore, that you want men to do to you, you also must likewise do to them.”—Matt. 7:12.
Psychiatrist Karl Menninger, in his book Whatever Became of Sin? stated: “To transcend one’s own self-centeredness is not a virtue; it is a saving necessity.”
We need to be aware of ourselves, of others, and most certainly to be aware of Jehovah God. Jesus put these needs in proper perspective when he was asked: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” His answer: “‘You must love Jehovah your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. The second, like it, is this, ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments the whole Law hangs, and the Prophets.”—Matt. 22:36-40.