In the Christian New Testament, it is made clear that our love for our God is expressed in the way we relate to other people. In other words, if we do not live with them in compassion, justice, understanding and respect, we cannot truly love our God. This principle may seem obvious, but whether it is genuinely lived out is often questionable.
For example, conservative people of faith sometimes regard themselves as more true to their God if they oppose and have no respect for people of other faiths. They abuse women who are wearing hijabs and say that they should not be accepted as immigrants or refugees. They would rather see them die, as they flee from deathly forces in their countries of origin. Often they reject people of other sexualities or genders as not loved by God and support them being bullied in schools and communities in general.
They do not stop and reflect on the reality that Jesus Christ was crucified for challenging all sorts of attitudes that isolated the poor, the struggling and those who were different. He was the one who told stories like the loving life of the Good Samaritan and who befriended and accepted all sorts of vulnerable people.
The reality is that we cannot genuinely love our God if we do not express that love in the world around us. When we engage respectfully with people of other faiths, or none, we can often learn more about our God and expand our own faith in unexpected ways.
Another part of our calling is to love our God and our neighbours as ourselves. People who relate to a loving God are invited to be forgiving of ourselves as well as others. Often, religious people are less forgiving of themselves than they are of their neighbours. In fact, if we do genuinely love ourselves, recognising that we are just as human as others, we bear witness to our God. If we do not forgive ourselves, then we are not giving expression to a God who understands our human journeying and holds us in love as we grieve that we have let ourselves down in the way we have lived.
Of course, this loving God not only forgives us, but calls us on in hope to learn from failures and to believe that we can make positive changes in our lives. When we love ourselves enough to do that, we give expression to this Divine love and offer into the life of our community that same sense of hope. This is also an expression of the nature of our God – who is not just engaging with each one of us but dreams of a whole creation, human and beyond, which expresses love and grace. We can add our small offerings to this dream and move closer to the grandeur of the God of love.