We all know that the two great commandments are to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself. I find the differences between the two refreshing and apt.
God, as I understand him, is Good and, therefore, incomprehensible to me. If I love my neighbor, it is done through (at minimum) extending him the same benefit of the doubt I grant myself (more on that later). God, on the other hand, is wholly trustworthy, reliable, and loving. As a result, I can devote myself fully to him without fear. Unfortunately, I don’t really understand him as a result. There is nothing in my experience (outside of God) that would hold up to that sort of standard. The goal in life is to know God, but there isn’t any way to do it outside of the experience of God himself. The world, the opportunity for learning that we have, is flawed, deliberately so. Our human experience, natural though it may be, obscures the divine and our connection to it. But it does provide some access to our fellow humans.
To love our neighbor as ourselves is as profound a command as I have ever encountered. I don’t know that I am sufficient to the task. It seems to me that the great problem of human existence is not the question of how to perfect one’s self, but rather the problem of how to love someone who is flawed. Loving the imperfect is what God and Christ excelled (and excel) at, but I often find it difficult. People with whom I disagree are idiots or deluded, manipulators of the worst sort. I, on the other hand, can justify away my moral compromises, my moments of poor form by pointing to the mitigating circumstances which required (or, at least, prompted) my bad behavior. If I have behaved poorly, please rest assured that I feel bad about it and that I didn’t intend harm or offense. I hate to overgeneralize, but I doubt I am the only person to have felt this way.
It strikes me that if knowing God is the goal of our existence, then loving our neighbors is the means. Certainly, God loves us and we are flawed, terribly so in most cases. Remember Elder Eyring’s counsel that if we assume that the people we are talking to is in some sort of trouble, we will usually be right. Finding it in our hearts to genuinely love those who have used us or, even harder, those who have used those we love is almost beyond human ability. Which is weird, because we mostly love ourselves and we have mostly used, abused, and hurt others. Loving your neighbor doesn’t just mean accepting your neighbors flaws; it means accepting (in a non-abstract manner) that you are possibly equally flawed. It means loving your self and your neighbor in the imperfection.
God doesn’t forgive us in sin, but rather from sin. No unclean thing may enter God’s presence. But we are all unclean; we are all in sin. Humans don’t have the option of loving, trusting, saving, embracing, or listening to the perfect (outside of God). Nor should we want it. God loves the killer, the thief, the jerk, the pervert, the meanie and the junkie, along with the little children and the saints. Why should we, in our striving to emulate and become like God, to know God, expect any other task?