Part of the genius of Shakespeare lay in his ability to know his characters inside and out long before he let them strut upon the stage. When a grave-digger appears in Shakespeare, you can be sure the bard knew the man well before he uttered a word. It's what makes the people in Shakespeare so real and round.
Intimate knowledge of the characters one includes in a play is the mark of a great playwright.
Intimate knowledge of each member of the human race, however, is something else.
It is the mark of deity.
"Thou art closer to me than I am to myself," reads an early Christian prayer. The notion is backed by scripture.
In the story of the rich young ruler, Mark says, "Then Jesus, beholding him, loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give it to the poor. . . ." (Mark 10: 21.)
Jesus knew the rich young man better than he knew himself. He knew his good traits. And He knew which trait he lacked.
We can only imagine what it would be like to be on such intimate terms with the entire world, to be able to really love those we've just met. Martin Buber, the Jewish thinker, claims that is actually possible if only on a limited scale. In his book, I and Thou, Mr. Buber says being truly spiritual means connecting not only with our friends and family, but with everyone who crosses our path the butcher, the baker, the furniture maker.
Yet how is that possible? Who can invest the time it takes to create such relationships?
Mother Teresa was once asked by a reporter how she could feel so intimate with the thousands of dying souls on the streets of Calcutta. Her response was typical Mother Teresa. "When I look into each of their faces," she said, "I picture the face of Jesus."
She, too, was following scripture: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." (Matthew 25:40.)
As human beings we can be a frustrating and frustrated lot. We can be so short-sighted and short-tempered. We judge each other without having all the facts. We avoid each other for no reason. As Paul says in First Corinthians, without the pure love of Christ, we can only "know in part." (1 Corinthians 13:9.) In the Kingdom of God, however, where people open their hearts up to the Spirit and its transforming power, it's a different story. "Then shall I know even as also I am known," the apostle writes. (1 Corinthians 13:13.)
As flawed and feeble human beings, we can never really know the working of each other's heart. We can seldom fathom the workings of our own. But God does know. And with His help, we can truly know the joys and sorrows, the triumphs and failings of those around us.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve has written: "The relevancy of 'love thy neighbor,' if practiced successfully 'here and now' one day will demonstrate how it will be applied in the coming 'there and then' in a neighborhood as wide as the universe!" (If Thou Endure It Well, p. 98.)
If we turn our hearts to God, He will turn our hearts to each other. He will not only show us the secrets we hold inside, but show us the secret longings of those about us. In that glorious "there and then" the "family of man" will be more than a pretty idea. It will be very real indeed.
In the "there and then" we will know all of God's children as intimately as, today, we know those sitting across from us at family dinner.