The Enemy Enigma
By Dr. Dorothee Cole
A recent sermon I listened to brought up a topic that I’ve thought about a lot in the last few years – one that has been an enigma to my own Christian life. The subject was, “Loving Our Enemies” and it seems to me that a failure to get to the bottom of this issue has prevented me from representing God as He really is.
God’s command to love our enemies is not merely a peripheral issue, but rather one of Jesus’ most central teaching. He tried to make this one crystal clear for us on so many occasions. “Love your enemies,” “Pray for those who curse you,” “Offer the other cheek,” “Carry their pack the extra mile,” “Don’t seek revenge,” “Pay evil back with good,” etc. But not just with words, the actions of Jesus that ultimately led Him to lay down His life for enemies should leave no doubt that “this is it!” At the same time, it is also quite evident that this most important teaching is also one that’s been largely neglected. And more than that, it’s been ridiculed by many Christians and even declared immoral by others. “We have to defend the innocent, and with weapons, if necessary. Peace and non-violence are good to a certain extent, but there comes a point where the sword is necessary.”
But this is not consistent with the radical new kingdom Jesus came to bring. Jesus never defended Himself or His followers using violent means. Jesus never used a sword. Jesus always forgave. Jesus loved His enemies and chose to die for them rather than kill them. Jesus rebuked Peter when he tried to use violence. Jesus told Pilate that He was the King of a kingdom where swords have no place. Jesus’ non-violent kingdom was in full display before our eyes when He lived on this earth and when He died on the cross. And as Christians we’re supposed to be like Christ.
It is certain that the kingdom of God will not become a reality on this earth until a group of people have the courage to accept that love for enemies and the refusal of violence in any form toward all human beings is the highest goal. The glimpses we have seen of this kingdom in people like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. were like brief rays of sun shining through the darkness, but sadly their radical teachings all but died out.
When Jesus spoke of perfection (Christian maturity) (Matt 5:48), it was in the context of loving enemies in the same way that God loves His enemies. To really be like God then means to love those who hate me, to forgive those who have hurt me. And for us sinners it means to ask for forgiveness to those we have hurt.
But now the difficult part, the one I need help with. I admire that God’s kingdom is this way. It seems to me that the message of non-violence and love for enemies is the message for our time. I want to live and to think this way, but how in the world can I put it into practice? How can I live a life free from resentment, hurt, and judgment? I believe that at the most fundamental level, I have to decide that Jesus’ radical ways are right and good and that they can apply to me. I have to acknowledge that violence is never part of God’s kingdom. I have to trust that when Jesus talked about enemy love, He meant it for my life and my particular situation. This conscious decision, this choice is the first step to help bring God’s kingdom down to this planet.
God is calling all of us to stop the cycle of violence in our lives by refusing to be part of it. Violence germinates in our minds and this is where healing must begin. The next step is to trust that God will help us in this new way of life. When we are tempted to hate our enemy, God will help us to suppress the impulse to pay back, to accuse in our minds, or to hold responsible those who have hurt or tried to destroy us. God eagerly waits to give us the strength to repay an insult with the desire to bless, and to return a cutting remark with a caring response. We must decide to press the stop button when hurtful scenes play back in our minds and, at that very moment, to see others as God sees them. Rather than feeding into the cycle of hatred, we are called to be peacemakers and to console those we have hurt and to bless those that we have injured by careless words or disapproving attitude. And God will lead us through this process, if we ask him to.
God does not ask us to be weak (passive doormats) in this world. Rather, we are to engage in active spiritual warfare by repaying evil with good. We will come in contact with people who are dangerous to others or to God’s kingdom. He does not ask us to like or trust those who mean harm. Yet God calls us to rid ourselves of even a single thought of insult, slander, or malice toward anyone. In that process of transformation, we will receive the joy and happiness of freedom from the darkness of Satan’s ways which continually attempts to dominate our thoughts and ultimately our actions. Real and complete freedom is to have no violence or hatred in our thoughts and actions and to be filled with God’s goodness and peace.
God help us all to continually see and imagine Your beauty for in seeing You as You are, we become transformed and reflect Calvary love to others (2. Cor. 3:18). Our constant connection with You is the fuel that drives the transformation toward Christian maturity to the ideal where we can regard all people with tenderness of heart.
For anyone interested in an inspired sermon on this topic, watch or listen to the 2/28/2010 sermon by Greg Boyd entitled “Let it Go.”
“Our enemies are those who harbor hostility against us, not those against whom we cherish hostility…As a Christian I am called to treat my enemy as a brother and to meet hostility with love. My behavior is thus determined not by the way others treat me, but by the treatment I receive from Jesus.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer