The Fellowship of Life
a Christian-based vegetarian group founded in 1973



The Meaning of Love
by Derek Neville

In that lovely passage that is to be found in the 11th chapter of Isaiah, verses 1-9, it is the last verse that especially touches upon a profound truth. It says "They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea." The first thing to be noted about this verse is that it makes a statement and then gives a reason for that statement. It describes a result and then tells us the cause of that result. It says that because the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD - because of that fact - "They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain."

In other words, in this verse we are told as clearly as it is possible to be told that when the earth is filled with the knowledge of the LORD nobody will want to hurt nor destroy anything.

This ideal state may seem to some of us to be very far away, but it must be remembered that any ideal state envisaged for a world or a nation must first be made a reality in the lives of individuals. For this world will only be perfect when its individual members are themselves capable of perceiving perfection at the heart of everything.

Thus we are able to bring this vision considerably nearer than we might imagine. We do not have to wait until there is a perfect world in order to put into practice the great principles of truth and of love that are the very foundations of the kingdom of heaven.

We should look at this verse again and apply it to the individual life. Then we shall see that as soon as an individual is filled with the knowledge of the LORD - at that point such an individual does not want to hurt nor destroy anything at all. He may sometimes be obliged to destroy something - but it is not because of a desire on his part to do it but only because it seems to be the only possible thing to do.

It has always seemed to me that this deep reverence for the rest of life is one of the most fundamental things in the life of the spirit. I remember many years ago John Moreton telling me that there would never be an end to war until people had stopped killing the animals for food. I thought he was going a bit far at the time. Although I myself was a vegetarian - I did not feel that the matter had much to do with the cessation of war.

But John Moreton was right. When we go down deep enough into the root of things we come to this verse in Isaiah where an unerring finger is laid upon the whole problem and where it is clearly stated that when we are filled with the knowledge of the LORD we do not want to hurt nor destroy.

God is love and when we are filled with the knowledge of that great love we must at the same time be filled with a deep and abiding reverence for all creation. It is a desire that is far deeper than thought, far wider than the compass of any human mind. It is a desire that results in an interior knowing without any valid mental reason for the same. It is a desire that is not chained to Logic but is brought about because of the awareness of the unity at the heart of creation. To be filled with the knowledge of the LORD is to be filled with the knowledge of love. One cannot know love by means of the mind. To know love is to experience it. The knowledge of love must be a deep interior knowledge whereby the spirit of man meets the spirit of the LORD.

When this takes place, so that the love of God is operating within the soul of man, so that the soul of man is now sending forth a positive dynamic desire for the good of all creation - how can that man want to hurt or destroy? It is an impossibility! There may come a moment in his life when, because he can see no other possibility if he is to act for the good of all, he is obliged to hurt or destroy. For instance, he may feel obliged to weed his garden, and as he does so on some summer's afternoon he cannot help but be conscious of the uprooted weed that must now droop in the heat and die or be cast aside to be burned on some bonfire. He cannot be blind to the beauty and perfection of the little flowers that have to die just because they are in the wrong place at the wrong time. But in this very atmosphere of compassion and reverence he can find his peace. I am not sure of the quotation, but I have heard it said that Albert Schweitzer has pointed out that a farmer may plough up a field and still be in harmony with life, whereas anyone who picks a single flower in thoughtlessness or waste is out of harmony with life. I think this is very true. When we are filled with the knowledge of the love of God we cannot thoughtlessly hurt or destroy other forms of life. The wayside flower or the leaves of the tree become holy to us and we know them to be vessels of the divine life - not to be plucked without thought and cast aside. As to the possibility of killing the birds or animals thoughtlessly or for our own selfish ends - this becomes an impossibility.

Indeed it may be truly stated that such things are possible only when we are not filled with the knowledge of the LORD, only when we push aside that knowledge and conveniently forget it. It is for this reason that if in any country such as Britain men and women had to kill their own animals in order to obtain meat - then I would unhesitatingly suggest that 95 per cent of them would become vegetarians! Very few people indeed would be prepared to take the life of another creature in order to eat it. And of those who were so prepared, very few would be able to continue doing so for long.

To be filled with the knowledge of the LORD is to be filled with an all-embracing love that takes in the rest of life. It is a love that sees deep down into the heart of the universe, a love that can make one individual at one with another, able to feel as another feels, and to see with the eyes of another. It is a mysterious power because it is not confined to individuals. It is a love that looks out and enters into the being of a creature, feels as the creature feels and sees as the creature sees. Or it is a love that enters into the herbs that grow, the trees, the roots of things. It is not a blind love that misses imperfections altogether or that sees imperfections as lasting for ever. It is a love that sees a struggling world, that does not miss that pain and the darkness, the mistakes and the follies of those that struggle towards the light - but it is a love that at the same time sees the light to which things move and longs to lift up all travellers into that light. That is what love is - a desire to help each other part of creation into its true fulfilment and into the awareness of knowledge and the glory of the LORD.

And that is why those who are themselves filled with the knowledge of the LORD cannot hurt nor destroy thoughtlessly or needlessly. They live to bless and to heal and to restore, and it is the operation of such lives that will bring peace on the earth and show us the kind of world to which Isaiah refers.

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