“You have heard that it was said ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Matthew 5: 43-45.
Jesus tells us in pretty plain language that we are to love those who persecute us and whom we would consider to be our enemies. That is a fine principle to live by, and I admire those who are able to comply with it. If we would do more enemy loving and a lot less enemy hating the world would be a much better place, in theory. And this is where faith comes into the picture, for me at least, because I do not see how such a thing could possibly work in “real life”. Here is where it is really hard to listen to Jesus Christ, and not do what is right in my own eyes. Here, as they say, is where the rubber meets the road.
Because I hate my enemies. Oh, I live in a small city that is virtually a bedroom community for the big city across the river. I get along well enough with my neighbors; the few with whom I interact at all. And at work there are a few people who covet my lead position, and therefore are inclined to say things about me behind my back that they would never say to my face. I don’t really care about that though; the world’s not perfect and I know it, and don’t expect it to be. I will retire soon and then those people can have my position with my blessing, if our employer agrees to appoint one of them or the other. These people are a far cry from being my enemies, and I do pray for them regularly.
So I have a pretty well-cushioned life. Nobody wants my life or property badly enough to do anything drastic to take them. Nobody is sufficiently annoyed by my politics to want to eliminate my voice and my vote. And nobody is offended by my unashamed acknowledgement of Jesus Christ as my Lord and savior. I have Muslim and Buddhist acquaintances, and others who do not care about religion enough to even think about it, with whom I have warm relations and who I am always happy to chat with and with whom I would even share a glass of wine or two, if it is permissible in their religion to do so. We are people who think differently, but who are far from hating each other.
But I do have enemies, and I hate them. You have probably heard of some of these enemies, and some you probably have not. ISIS, al-Qaeda, Janjaweed, al-Shabab, Boko Haram, Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), Pakistanis who use that nation’s anti blasphemy laws to torture, rob and kill Christians, the Sinaloa Cartel, Gente Nueva, Gulf Cartel and the Zetas. The Ku Klux Klan, the Aryan Brotherhood, Westboro Baptist; the list could go on and on.
Why do I consider them enemies? There is very little chance that a member of any one of these groups will ever intersect with my life. I might someday be on a plane that some underwear bomber brings down, or be in a restaurant where some brain-dead jihadi detonates a suicide vest. And maybe I will be robbed and killed by a junkie seeking money to support his habit, a habit fueled by drugs funneled north by some Mexican cartel. But the odds of this are probably a good deal less than that I will be struck by a car while out walking or have a second heart attack that will finish the job left undone by the first. So why do I hate these people?
I hate the violence and evil that they perpetrate in what was intended to be God’s perfect world. I hate that Christians are tortured and killed in Pakistan for personal gain or the settling of a grudge by relying on its anti blasphemy law. I hate those people who crucify, shoot or behead Christians in Iraq and Syria. These same people capture and sell women and girls of the Christian, Yazidi and Shi’a communities to be ‘married’ to violent men or used as sexual slaves.
I hate the Janjaweed for riding in from the desert and killing and raping darker-skinned African farmers and herdsmen and burning their villages. I hate Boko Haram for kidnapping women and children and killing an burning everybody and everything else. I hate the LRA for kidnapping children to make soldiers for its pathetic “army”, and kidnapping girls to give pleasure to these young “soldiers”. I hate the people who manufacture, transport and sell meth, cocaine and heroin in their various forms; drugs which destroy lives by the hundreds of thousands or more every year. And I hate people who hate other people because of the color of their skin no matter what that color might be, or to whom other people might be attracted sexually. These very real people inflict very real pain and loss and death and oppression on other very real people. I read the news. I try to be aware of my world. I know these things happen, and God help me, I hate the people who are responsible.
So I go to the Bible and history and seek the answer to my dilemma which I would state as “How do I love the people who viciously and mercilessly murder and oppress others”? I don’t find a lot that helps me. Jesus took Peter’s sword away when he tried to prevent Jesus’ arrest. Jesus later walked meekly to the flogging post and then to the cross. Peter, Paul, Stephen, and a multitude of Christ followers in the first three hundred years after Christ were martyred for their faith. Of course, Christianity eventually ‘won’ that contest when Constantine declared Christianity to be the official religion of the Roman Empire, although some theologians and scholars debate whether that event marked a win or a loss for the faith. But still I find little there that helps me with my problem.
I find that I must ultimately rely on faith to temper the hostility that I feel for these enemies. I must believe that God is in control of His creation and that nothing happening on earth takes Him by surprise. When God says through Paul “If God is for us, who is against us?—Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” I have to believe that He means it. God loves us, and nothing that the evil in the world can do to us will separate us from that love, and that when the final curtain comes down we whom the Lord has chosen (whoever that might be, and that’s another big topic) will be in glory with Him, and all tears will be dried and all hurts healed and all loss restored.
So fine. I believe that. All will be as it should be then. But what about now? Try as I might to be more merciful, I am glad when a drone strike takes out an ISIS or Taliban commander. I mourn the Jewish victims of the recent terror attack in Paris but I do not care about the life of the Muslim attacker. I read about a turf war between Mexican drug cartels, with headless victims showing up everywhere, and I think ‘good riddance’. How do I get away from that hate? I don’t want to feel it. I want instead to be a sincere follower of Jesus. He said to love my enemies, and then He showed us how to do it, and what it could cost.
Somehow I must arrive at a position which many in the Yoder/Hauerwas?Volf camp of nonviolent Christians would say is a contradiction and impossible to support, and that is to support relentless resistance to the evil perpetrated by these people, which would take the form of military action or aggressive law enforcement. While wrestling with my own heart to cease hating the perpetrators of these hideous crimes, I will support resistance, even to the point of killing the perpetrators before they can kill more victims and incarcerating those captured alive, so that they will never work their evil on innocent victims again.
This is not a perfect resolution to my dilemma. I shall probably wrestle with this until the day that I die. I take no joy in hating anybody; joy and hate make for a poor partnership. With God’s help I will slowly become more conformed to His will, and perhaps I will be given wisdom to see the issue more clearly. God help me, this is where I stand right now.