And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:35-40, ESV
It’s easy to imagine an academic vocation as a solitary one, full of brilliant and prickly eccentrics who publish famous monographs but have no idea who lives on their street. But in addition to reminding me how deeply an academic life can be centered in love of God, the scholars at the Lausanne Creation Care and the Gospel Conference also reminded me how deeply it can be about love of neighbor.
The Au Sable Institute of Environmental Studies, for instance, sponsors an undergraduate research program where Christians in science partner with local NGOs and government offices to learn about and care for local environments. Serving local communities is one of the stated goals of the program, and it was deeply encouraging to hear about ways Christian academics have crafted programs that serve both students and local communities.
Plant with Purpose is a Christian organization that works to support local communities in the developing world through agricultural training and support. It’s a practical way of loving our neighbors, but it requires research as well: the organization’s resources page even features a Research section.
Are all Christian academics going to plant trees in the developing world or partner with local organizations? No. But we can all seek to do research that edifies, encourages, or supports or neighbors. Whether that’s the sociologist trying to understand what her fellow citizens within a country or region value, the literary researcher explaining how historical knowledge or literary theory can deepen someone’s enjoyment of a favorite novel, or the mathematician sharing the beauty of equations with others, there’s a way to love our neighbors in the work we do.
How can I love my neighbors through my research this year?
Oh Lord, be with us and guide us as we seek to love others through our academic work. In our research and teaching, fill us with Your generosity and love, and let it spill over into all our work to gain and give knowledge. Let that knowledge point us always toward a deeper love for you and our neighbor.