I recently read the highly acclaimed book “The Forty Rules of Love” by Elif Shafak and though it was contrary to what I had expected going by the title, it resonated within me and helped confirm what I instinctively knew to be true. The title of the book gives the impression that it is about romantic love and that the 40 rules would lead to a more robust relationship with one’s partner. In a way, it touched on romance because the main characters were a couple caught in a marriage that was dead on the inside but it touched on more than romantic love. It spoke about loving others, loving God and respecting humanity.
It was easy for me to accept the rules enumerated in the book the first being “how we see God is a direct reflection of how we see ourselves. If God brings to mind mostly fear and blame, it means there is too much fear and blame welled inside us. If we see God as full of love and compassion, so are we”
I now see God through the lens of love and I understand why it’s very difficult for most of us to do so because for a good chunk of my time on earth, I found it difficult to love me and could hardly believe anyone could do so without conditions. So I struggled with Love and with God especially, the God of the Old Testament. To me He was such an unjust, unfair, biased and unforgiving task master who meted out punishments cheerfully and who was very prejudiced in his dealings with nations and people.
I am rather thankful that I wasn’t born in that dispensation, I am not sure if I would have worshipped Him willingly if I would have worshipped Him at all, especially because He had a favorite race to the exclusion of all other races and He made people suffer for the things they knew nothing about just because their fathers did wrong.
Thankfully, the God of the New Testament is a God of love, how He came about the transformation, I really don’t know nor want to know but I am sure glad that He did and that He loves me unconditionally. The Bible in 1John 4:8 says God is Love and if He is indeed love then love must be God and everyone that claims to worship God must be a lover of first themselves, then people around them and God, for how can you love God whom you can’t see except you love YOU who He has made and other people who you can see.
Love is a universal element, it knows no barriers, has no single language and is expressed in so many ways. Love is kindness, tenderness, understanding, faithfulness, loyalty, sacrifice, acknowledging of the essence of another. It is wholesome, gentle and accepting of others. It is expressed in the simplest of things- a smile, a hug, a prayer, a thought, a kind gesture, a wink , a nod, words, actions and gifts of time, self and material things but it is much more than that, it is a safe place, a refuge, a tower, a fortress and a defense. It is powerful yet seemingly weak, strong yet delicate, accepting yet principled.
One of the hallmarks of love is respect – respect for others, their person, their viewpoints, choices and differences. But unlike God who treats us all with respect, who respects our choices, questions, viewpoints, differences etc we are quick to judge, condemn, correct others, firm in our stance that we are right, discarding others and rubbishing their experiences because they differ from ours.
We are a very religious society, we have churches and mosques on almost every street, some buildings have more than one church on different floors, we preach in public places inconveniencing others, pray at meetings whether business or otherwise but we lack love and in lacking love we show that we do not know the God we claim to serve.
We show our disrespect for God and humanity in so many ways from the way we talk to people who are not on the same social strata as us or the way we address people that we do not think deserve our respect, it shows in our comments on social media and how we can’t seem to pass information or correct others without shading or insulting them, it shows in how we insist that others must see things from our view point and view point alone. It shows when we can’t accept that people will be different from us because of their upbringing and background, it shows when we pray to God who made our enemies for those enemies who incidentally he loves as much as he loves us to die because we want them to.
It shows in our thinking that our mode of worship or the church or mosque we go to is superior than others. It shows when we think we are better than others and that they have nothing to offer. It shows in our disrespect for the creatures that share this space with us and our disrespect for the earth that we have all come from and will all go to.
I am not ashamed to say that many years ago I would have balked at reading books like the 40 rules of love basically because they centered on other religions or were written by authors who do not believe like I do. I am, however, glad to say that my realization that we are all the same and that there is a bit of God in every one of us, a bit of love in every one of us and each and every one of us yearns for love and is capable of loving others has made me more accepting and understanding of other people’s beliefs. Instead of rejecting them outright I am able to entertain divergent beliefs without accepting them or being changed by them and I tend to look for the areas we can agree on.
Our society is fraught with so many divides, things that seem to separate us mostly in the areas of religion and tribe but it’s time to look beyond the barriers that have kept us from loving others, barriers wrought from backgrounds, experiences and teachings.
The truth is that all religions have one or more things in common, Love and God are inseparable and those who claim to know God will as a matter of fact be acquainted with love and know how to love themselves and others.