Love My Neighbor? Do I Have To?


Virtually every faith tradition has some kind of teaching about loving others, and people who engage with spirituality deeply will sometimes have an experience of loving or being one with all people. It’s a beautiful feeling—but it can be hard to sustain in our daily lives.

The Bible says “love thy neighbor.” But what about the neighbor who’s always throwing trash on your lawn? Or the one who called the police on your twelve-year-old’s birthday party because the kids were making too much noise? How can we find love in our hearts for people who act selfishly or even harm others?

Emanuel Swedenborg, a Swedish scientist-turned-mystic, spent a lot of time thinking, and writing, about love. He talked about loving others in terms of caritas, a Latin word that is often translated charity but can also mean a sense of goodwill toward all:

“Since goodwill resides in the inner self, where benevolence is felt, and then extends into the outer self, where good actions occur, it follows that people’s inner selves are what we should love; and we should love their outer selves on the basis of their inner selves. Therefore we are to love people according to the type of goodness they have inside. It is the goodness itself, then, that is actually our neighbor.” True Christianity, para. 410

Love the goodness inside the person. Sounds simple, right? But what about the people who don’t seem to have any goodness inside?

Swedenborg’s take on this is that there are genuinely evil people in the world. On the worst end of the spectrum are people who kill and commit acts of brutality, but there are also people who only love themselves and put on a show to get what they want. He says that it’s important to treat everybody in a loving way, but sometimes the most loving thing you can do for a person who’s hurting others is to confront them and try to make them stop.

That doesn’t mean that all this love has to come from within us. Swedenborg came from a Christian background, and so he talked about God, but imagine a vast source of love and wisdom whose energy permeates every part of the universe:

“God loves every one of us but cannot directly benefit us; he can benefit us only indirectly through each other. For this reason he inspires us with his love, just as he inspires parents with love for their children. If we receive this love, we become connected to God and we love our neighbor.” True Christianity, para. 457

If you’d like to know more about Swedenborg and his ideas, you can read it in his own words, explore the excerpt linked above, or visit our Swedenborg’s Ideas page.

Swedenborg Says . . .

Want to read more about this topic in Swedenborg’s own words?
Download a chapter from True Christianity vol. 1,
“Goodwill and Good Actions”

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