At the heart of Christian spiritual life, of course, is love: God’s love for us, and our love for him and for one another. Jesus is repeatedly asked in the gospels what the greatest commandment in the Law is. His answer, again and again: “love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength,” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” The whole of the Law and the prophets, says Jesus, comes down to this.
Reflect with me briefly on the latter commandment — the commandment to neighbor love—and its connection to happiness, the theme of this issue of The Table.
The commandment comes from Leviticus 19, where it occurs at the end of a long list of commandments prescribing how the Israelites are to treat one another. They are to: leave extra on their fields for the poor and sojourner; not steal from or lie to one another; pay their laborers promptly; not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; do no injustice in juridical matters, showing no partiality to rich or poor; not slander the neighbor nor take his life; not hate the neighbor in one’s heart; and more. Then, at the end of the list, comes the commandment to neighbor love, apparently summarizing all that has come before: “in sum, love your neighbor as yourself.”
In Leviticus, then, loving the neighbor as oneself is about treating one another in the ways prescribed by these commandments: assuring that one another’s sustenance needs are met, that all are secure against harms, that the vulnerable are treated with dignity, and that all have a place in a just and harmonious community. To love the neighbor is to seek her inclusion in such community.
Israel’s writers had a word for such community: shalom. Shalom, for them, is a communal state of well-being or wholeness in which neighbors treat one another in the above-described ways. Leviticus 19’s love commandment, therefore, is a commandment to treat the neighbor in ways that conduce to her shalom.
Now for the connection between love and happiness. For happiness, in the biblical tradition, is a deeply communal notion: It is a byproduct of immersion in shalom community. It’s what happens to one when one lives in community in which there is enough of life’s basic goods, in which there is justice and dignity for all, both weak and strong, in which all care for and delight in one another. And love, as we’ve seen, is about being an agent of shalom to those around you: it’s about nurturing, protecting, and spreading this sort of shalom community. Love, then, draws us into shalom, and shalom draws us into happiness. Love, shalom, and happiness: the three are deeply intertwined.
There is another interesting connection worth noting, this time between happiness and our focal theme this year at the CCT, “psychology and spiritual formation.” For modern psychology has accumulated considerable wisdom about the ways of shalom: about how to treat one another with dignity, how to find our way into harmonious relationship, how to forgive, how to show gratitude, how to recover from harms, how to help the burdened, and more. Modern psychology has much to teach us about how to help one another into shalom community. Therefore it has much to teach us about happiness.
In the issue to follow, you’ll find further reflections on happiness and its connection to themes in the biblical tradition, psychology, and other sources of wisdom too. Enjoy.