Why do we love and care for others? Some would say that love is just part of the process of evolution: Someone once killed his neighbor, and because others did not want to be killed as well, they banded together and punished the murderer. People saw this punishment and deduced that killing is wrong and that the tribe is a stronger unit when people look out for each other.
This is a hypothetical but plausible scenario if we look at how things work today and use our intellect to explain what happened eons ago in human history. The problem is, though, we weren't there.
As a person who studies religion and is a follower of Jesus Christ -- which, believe it or not, is a choice I made after rational inquiry and finding satisfying evidence that God is acting in the world even today -- I have spent much time reading through the many millennia-old written document of humanity's interactions with God.
There are two strands that I always make light of when learning about the history of love as recorded in Scripture. First, I look at what humans were doing, and second, I look at what God is doing. The two are often very different. Human morality, even in the Bible, is very relative and focused on the self -- and, in this view, the account of morality as hypothesized in evolution is probably true.
In fact, in Canaan, when the Hebrews began moving into the promised land, the cities were independent states, engaged in trade, alliance or war.
The city-states had kings. Codes of laws were variously applied so that each person did what he or she thought was right, and when that infringed on another it was up to the king and his governmental officials to bring balance and fairness. It was an imperfect system, however, so long as people continued to look out only for themselves.
God's interaction with this economy was devastating to the local way. At Mount Sinai, Moses received the Commandments. These 10 precepts shifted focus from the human self to two others. First, love of God; second, love of others. It was more than just tolerant refrain from stepping on toes. It was a way to change the human heart toward a more divine economy. God's words united the Hebrews, and God's strength helped them as they left Egypt and assimilated the warring city-states.
Humanity constantly has to relearn this basic principle, and it is something each of us has to grapple with every day. Will we love ourselves and only contract with others toward a peaceful truce? Or will we give up our rights and give ourselves 100 percent for God and for others?
Christians look to Christ and see this sacrifice made completely real. The cross is a symbol of God showing us the way. Reclaiming the world by inserting light into the darkness and showing that selfishness will not prevail.
John says: "The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only son, who came from the father, full of grace and truth."
In the four gospels we see the son of God give up a stable life, devote himself to healing the sick and feeding the hungry, become betrayed by a close friend for money and then willingly accept an undeserved punishment to turn the tables of justice toward grace and forgiveness rather than legality and containment.
For those with and without faith, God's economy has huge lessons with an efficiency that can only come when people genuinely love.
Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Read his blog at www.danielgriswold.wordpress.com. Follow him on Twitter @dannonhill.com.