My friend Dale commented on my last post with some very thought-provoking questions, questions that I suspect others wonder, as well. So, while I am certainly not the authority on the subject, I thought I would weigh in on what I think.
First, Dale asks, “Who is my enemy?” I always like to look at the definitions of words in order to ensure that I am understanding and using them accurately, and it seems that defining “enemy” is a good first step toward answering this question. Dictionary.com defines it this way: “a person who feels hatred for, fosters harmful designs against, or engages in antagonistic activities against another; an adversary or opponent.” If we start with that last part, we all have adversaries or opponents, when on the athletic field or court even if at no other time. Yet those should be temporary “enemies,” people we desire to defeat in athletic competition (or board game competition, or most any other kind of competition) but they do not necessarily have to be–indeed, they should not be–people for whom we feel hatred. Using the first part of the definition, though, my enemy would be any person for whom I feel hatred, against whom I foster harmful designs, or antagonize. Or, I might add, any person who feels hatred for me, fosters harmful designs against me, or antagonizes me. Interestingly, however, in the second instance, I could have enemies and not even know it.
The question “who is my enemy” reminds me of the opposite question asked of Jesus in Luke 10, when the lawyer asks, “who is my neighbor?” Jesus responds with the parable of the Good Samaritan, and then ends with a question: “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” (verse 36, ESV). The lawyer’s response: “The one who showed him mercy.” Using that logic, then, my enemy is anyone who treats me like an enemy or whom I treat as an enemy.
Dale goes on to ask, “What constitutes loving somone who is your enemy? How do you do it?” That’s the hard part. I think Jesus gives instructions on that, in Matthew 5:44, when He says, ” Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” But a more detailed answer is provided in Luke6:27-28: “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” I think Jesus is answering the question of what it means to love my enemies when He provides some specific examples” I am to do good to them, not evil (turn the other cheek, for example); I am to bless them, and pray for them. As for the “how do you do it” part, though, the answer is only through dying to self and yielding to the Holy Spirit; no way would I ever be able to, or even want to, treat my enemies in such a way on my own.
Dale is quite right when he says, “Saying it is easier than doing it.” But specific examples are not as easy to give, because there are so many possible variations. By way of example though, if I have a neighbor that I do not like or who does not like me (I have had such neighbors, and when your neighbor lives twenty feet away it’s a lot more irritating than when he lives twenty miles away, let me tell you!), I have to decide: will I treat him with kindness, will I ignore him, or will I antagonize him? Most people would agree that the latter option is not right. The second option would have been fine for the Pharisees; remember, they taught “don’t do to others what you don’t want them to do to you.” So, from that perspective, ignoring them is fine. Just don’t throw rocks at them or antagonize them. Jesus, though, turned that teaching on its head and said that His followers are called to do to others what they would like others to do to them. So, if I want my neighbor to ignore me, I guess minding my own business is okay, too. But if I really would like to have a neighbor who would get my mail for me when I am on vacation, who would respect the property line, who would not blare loud music, who would or would not ____________ (fill in the blank with whatever fits in your situation) then I must do or not do those things to my neighbor.
“Is it possible for a Christian to be my enemy?” Dale asks. Unfortunately, yes. In fact, I think (sadly) that far too many Christians are more likely to have enemies who are other Christians than enemies who are not. Unless an unsaved person does something to wrong or offend me, I am not likely to even concern myself enough with that person for them to rise to the level of enemy. Other Christians, though, are professing to be what I am professing to be, and when their understanding of being Christian doesn’t line up with my understanding with Christian, I don’t like that. When I want hymns sung to the piano and organ, but they want praise choruses or contemporary worship songs sung to the accompaniment of drums, keyboards and electric guitars, I have a problem with that. That’s a simplistic and rather silly example, and yet such issues can destroy Christian fellowship and split churches.
Dale goes on to ask if it is possible to love someone who is evil. That is a difficult question. When I read it, I was reminded of the day I heard that Osama bin Laden had been killed by U.S. military operatives. Osama bin Laden hated Christianity and hated the United States of America and made no secret of the fact that he wanted to destroy both. He was responsible for the deaths of thousands of people. And yet, the morning after the news broke I remember sitting at the breakfast table trying to explain to my daughter that I was happy that bin Laden was dead, because of who he was and what he stood for, yet I could not rejoice in knowing that he was in hell. Can I love someone who is evil? No, not in the sense that we humans so often understand and define love. I cannot feel good about someone who is evil, and I cannot even want good things for someone who is evil. But I believe that I can love someone who is evil to the extent that I want him or her to recognize their sin, repent, and be forgiven. In other words, as hard as it may be to think about, I can love someone who is evil enough to want to spend eternity with them in heaven.
Jonah is a great example here, I think. Jonah did not want to go to Ninevah because the Assyrians were evil. Part of Jonah was likely scared of delivering God’s message (I know I would have been!) but an even bigger part of Jonah’s initial refusal to go was that he did not want the Assyrians to repent. He wanted God to judge them. He wanted God to wipe them off the earth. How do I know? Because when Jonah is sitting outside of town watching what is going to happen, he gets mad at God because the Assyrians did repent.
Jonah 3:10 says, “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that He had said He would do to them, and He did not do it.” The very next sentence, in 4:1, says “But is displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry.” I’m thinking he was more than angry. He was ticked…irate…furious. Jonah was so mad at God he said he wanted to die.
So Jonah is a great example of what loving my enemies does not look like. Not only should I pray for them to change their ways, I should pray for them to get right with God. And if they do, I should rejoice!
Jesus loved people who did evil things. He loved Judas, despite knowing that he would betray Him. He loved Pilate, despite knowing that he would sentence Him to death. He loved the thief on the cross, despite his sins. And He loved the people who crucified Him, even asking God to forgive them.
Dale says he read Hitler’s Willing Executioners, and he knows too much about what some of the Japanese and Germans did in WWII to “be less than loving” toward some. I read that book, too, and as a student of history I can relate to Dale’s concerns. I read another book, though, that demonstrates exactly what God has in mind when He says “love your enemies,” and that is Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken. For Louis Zamperini to be able to forgive the Japanese for what they did to him is incredible…and only from yielding to God.
This is a topic that each of has wrestled with, and will wrestle with so long as we are in this world. In my flesh, I will always prefer to hate my enemies than to love them. But God has called me to be different…to die to myself and to let Him live through me. And yes, that even means loving my enemies.