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Virtues of paradise: What is love? The greatest virtue of all

Saturday 19 August 2023 | Written by Supplied | Published in Editorials, Opinion


Virtues of paradise: What is love? The greatest virtue of all

Love isn’t just a feeling. It’s much more. Love is a virtue, a state of being, a practice. Love is a choice. Of all the virtues named in the sacred scriptures of the world’s religions, love is at the heart of them all.

We experience love in many forms: love for family, romantic love, love of work, home, and country. Most important is a relationship of love for God, trusting that we are loved by our Creator. A teacher of the law asked Jesus, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mathew 23: 34-46)

Self-love has a bad rap. Yet, how can we love another unless we love ourselves? Self-doubt is just as self-centered as self-conceit. Healthy self-love is like good parenting. We accept ourselves as the unique, worthy, human individuals we are, while at the same time seeking rigorous personal growth – opening to life’s many teachable moments. A sense of unworthiness undermines love for anyone else. Those who are deeply critical of others tend to have a harsh inner critic that keeps them from the joy of feeling beloved, by God or anyone. Transformation comes when we realise we are the beloved. We were loved even before we were born. “I knew My love for thee; therefore I created thee, have engraved on thee Mine image and revealed to thee My beauty.” (Hidden Words of Baha’u’llah, Bahai Faith) The more you see yourself as a beloved child of God – and a work in progress -- the more your love and compassion will overflow to others.  

The best way to love children is to appreciate their unique nature, focusing on what is good about them, celebrating their special strength virtues. Never shame them with labels like “stupid”, “useless”, “naughty” or worse. Instead, call them to the virtues of their better nature, the one created in the image of God. Encourage them to grow the fruits of the spirit – their love, patience, peacefulness, self-discipline, and kindness. Saying “Be kind” is so much kinder than “Don’t be mean”.

In my experience over the years in Hospice spiritual care, I noticed that the dying never spoke about their money. They talked about two things: service they had given and people they loved. The Buddha says, “In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.” 

Buddha also wrote, “Radiate boundless love towards the entire world.” Lord knows our world needs that love right now. 1 Corinthians 13 is a guide to love: “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal … and if I have faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing … Love is patient, love is kind.

It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud … It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres … And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” Whenever we practice love in these ways – toward ourselves, our family, and the world, it increases our happiness and that of everyone we touch.