Popular and unpopular thoughts about enemies
Here’s the popular belief about enemies among Christians – that we are supposed to love them.
Here’s the unpopular belief about enemies among Christians – That Jesus actually meant it. No really. We’re not just supposed to believe it, but actually do it.
There’s a difference between what we claim we believe and what we actually do. I’m not sure why that is though. It makes no sense to me. And all it really does is point to a deeper reality – we aren’t really interested in actually loving our enemies. We are only interested in making it look like we’ll consider loving our enemies.
We’d like to have it both ways. But that’s not how it works. That’s like saying I’m going to go West, while I’m driving East. The person in the passenger seat would probably look at me weird, and ask me if I know what direction I’m going? They’d be confused – hearing one thing and seeing another.
Jesus tells us to love our enemies – not just consider it. Not to just believe it. Not to say it and then ignore it. But to actually love our enemies. That requires a few things. First, we need to name who our enemies are. That seems pretty easy for most folks. Ask people to talk about someone or something that they like to complain about, and you have a hard time getting them to stop. People love to complain. It gives a sense of satisfaction. It gives a sense of being superior. It allows for us to dehumanize someone and to scapegoat. It soothes the ego.
But if we stop with naming our enemies, then we will have not learned a single thing. We have not grown. We only maintain the status quo. And the status quo is unimaginative. It’s lazy. It’s expected. It’s comfortable. It’s not what faith is about.
Faith is about creative imagination – God’s reign. God has a vision of how we are to live. And guaranteed – it’s far better than the status quo. You know why I know this – because it’s God’s vision.
So after I identify my enemies, then the hard work begins. I need to name what upsets me about them. Why are they my enemy? The reality more often than not is that the thing that I despise most about my enemies is really something that I despise about myself. My enemies are mirrors to myself. And often, I project what I hate in an amplified way on my enemy in order to make them worse and far more distant from myself than they actually are. I push away that which I hate so that I can hate easier. So that I can shape my enemy into something other than what they are. I can change them from imago Dei (image of God) to the imago antichristus (image of anti-Christ).
In this way, I am rejecting God’s love. I reject it when I refuse to love my enemy. I reject it when I refuse to look at what I hate about myself – the enemy within. I am not loving what God has created and made in God’s image. I’m not accepting the fullness of God’s creation.
God calls us to love our enemies. That doesn’t mean we just passively allow for evil to happen. Nonresistant isn’t loving. Passivity isn’t loving either. Love involves accountability. Love involves conflict – done in a nonviolent way. Love involves redirection. And sometimes love involves walking away. Love isn’t weak. Love comes with expectations – expectations for a better life for all that love touches. When God calls us to love our enemies, it is so that we and them can be moved towards a better life for all. Love is shalom – wholeness, completeness.
We are called to love our enemies. We are called to love ourselves – because of sin, we are God’s enemies. And God loves us. And God’s love transforms us and changes us. It’s what allows us to love others too. Because if God can love us, then we can do like God and love our enemies. Not just talk about it. Not just say it. But to actually do it. To be vulnerable. To do the unexpected. To be creative. To grab hold of the vision that God has for us.
Love your enemies.