“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. 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)
“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you…If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that…But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:27-36)
Love your enemies. This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about. This is not just a suggestion or a crazy concept – this is a direct command from Christ. What would happen if we decided to follow this command? How different would this world be if we chose to love our enemies? What does that even look like?
Last weekend we talked about this for morning devotions. We named some people and groups of people we could categorize as enemies in one way or another or toward whom we harbor resentment in our hearts. Then we prayed for them. There is such freedom in letting go of anger and hatred and seeking to view your enemy as God does: a beloved child created in His image.
This semester I am taking a class called “Global Issues, Social Change.” Recently we have been discussing human rights. In our last class we split into small groups and discussed human rights issues with each other. My group focused on torture. Most of the people in my group seemed to agree that although torture is wrong, it can be justified in certain situations. The whole discussion felt wrong to me. I wanted to say that I believe torture is always wrong, that it cannot be justified in any situation. I wanted to say that instead of torture, we should love. I didn’t want to speak, though, until I had time to gather my thoughts and organize them into something coherent.
Love your enemies…it’s hard enough to grasp on a personal level, but what about on a global scale? What does it look like in the context of torture, terrorists, and national security? Love a terrorist? Love someone who has plans to kill hundreds or thousands of people? That's insane. Yet isn't that what Jesus is asking us to do?
I was quiet for most of the discussion. I wasn’t sure how to present my view. I wasn’t even completely sure what my view was. I wasn’t sure what it would look like to live out what I was thinking. Exploring issues like this is one thing within the safety of my Christian community, but it’s a little more intimidating in a diverse group in a college classroom. When the time came for each group to share with the rest of the class, my group nominated me as the spokesperson since I hadn’t said much. I agreed. I recounted to the class what we had talked about, all the different aspects of torture that we discussed, and the general consensus that the rest of my group had come to. At the end I added, “I feel pretty differently from the rest of them, but we don’t have to get into that right now.”
After class one of my friends (who had been in my group) commented on how quiet I had been. I told him that I hadn’t been sure what to say because I had a very different view and it was pretty radical. His reply was, “And you don’t like conflict. You want peace and harmony.” I laughed and agreed. He said that I should have shared anyway because discussions are boring when everyone agrees, they’re much more interesting when someone has an extremely different view, especially when that view is radical. Then he asked me to share with him. So I told him, “I believe torture is wrong in all situations. The philosophy I try to live by is radical love (which is impossible to completely achieve in this life, but I hope for it anyway). I try to follow the teachings of Jesus, and He taught us to love our enemies.” His response was that no one lives that way. I replied, “You’re right. I guess I’m a crazy idealist.” As he walked away he called back to me, “Keep the dream alive!” I smiled because that seemed like the kind of cheesy line that would be in a movie.
After he left one of the girls from my class approached me and said, “I wanted to ask you about what your view is because I remember you said you felt differently from the rest of your group.” What followed was a great conversation and I was able to explore my ideas even further. We talked about love and trying to live a lifestyle that doesn’t compromise the values to which we cling. We talked about hard situations and having faith that God would always provide a better way, that He wouldn’t put us in a place where our only option was to compromise. We also talked about grace, because we’re only human and we will make mistakes.
(side note: I’ve been praying for God to open my eyes to areas in my life where I can grow. Obviously, I need to grow in my confidence and boldness in speaking out about my convictions and beliefs. I asked this girl to call me out in the future when discussions like this take place and to directly ask me what I think. I think it would have been really interesting if I had brought my view before the class. Maybe doing so would encourage others, like this girl, who do believe in God to think a little more deeply about how Jesus lived and what He said. God is faithful. I feel challenged.)
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)
Love God. Love people. Love your neighbor. Love your enemy.
Let us live guided by Love.