Love Your Enemy... Really?
A Note from Richard:
On the heels of an evil massacre of innocent concert attendees in Las Vegas, I recalled a Reflection article I wrote in March of 2015.
Although it appears that evil in our world is not subsiding, I believe this reflection is worth repeating. While some of the information may be dated, take the liberty to update it with the current atrocities we are witnessing.
I pray that you will carefully reflect upon the hard message Jesus asks of us. And, I ask that you continue to pray for those who grieve, those who desire retaliation and that our response will be an act of our submitted will to the obedience of Jesus.
- Richard Parrish
“Let God rise up, let his enemies be scattered; let those who hate him flee before him. … But God will shatter the heads of his enemies, the hairy crown of those who walk in their guilty ways.”
- Psalm 68:1, 21(NRSV)
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did in opposing the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey” - 1 Samuel 15:3 (NRSV).
“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also…”
- Luke 6:27-29a (NRSV).
Recently, I visited a former parishioner who was in the hospital. Her surgery had gone well, and she was recovering nicely. “I cannot bear to watch the news,” she said. She then proceeded to reveal how the never-ending reports of violence, war, human atrocities, and political stress (not to mention the apparent ineptness of government officials) deflate her hope and seek to undermine her faith.
She’s not alone in her feeling! And, she’s not the only person who has expressed those sentiments to me. It happens more frequently than not.
While I do believe it is healthy to take a sabbatical from the news, I’m equally aware that it is very tempting to bury our heads in the sand. For some reason, it’s appealing for some to pretend that isolation from reality is healthy! Try as we may, each of us — sooner or later — has to come up for air, and when we do we are impacted again by the horrific acts, we see in our world.
The blessing of technological advancement is also a curse. Streaming video, instant communication, Internet access, and social media tools have placed distant parts of our world — and the suffering of humanity — into our living rooms, desktops, and hands. The reality is: You can’t escape the impact of what is happening in our world!
However, it’s helpful to remember: This is not our first rodeo. Conflict and violence are not new. Even a cursory glance at history reminds us: War, tribulation, suffering, and evil actions by fallen humanity seem to be par for the course. The challenge for us (and for those in previous generations) is: How do we respond?
The Psalmist sings of God’s successful intervention on behalf of the oppressed: “Let God rise up, let his enemies be scattered…” The Psalmist believes that God acts on behalf of His people. The song embodies a faith that considers: When God moves, the adversary will flee, affliction will cease, and God will triumph with justice. That is a beautiful hope that we cling to in the midst of adversity, persecution, and suffering.
Samuel speaks as a representative of God to Saul, the newly appointed king of Israel. He gives the directions that Israel is to attack the Amalekites for the evil atrocities they had afflicted upon the Israelites. It is evident from Samuel’s words: God is more than annoyed. He is commanding complete annihilation of the Amalekites.
However, Jesus’ instruction appears to be a proverbial “fly in the ointment.” Its message may seem to be in opposition to retaliation — let alone the destruction of one’s enemy. On the surface, these words may appear to contradict the Psalmist’s belief that God does — and will — justly intervene, or Samuel’s understanding that God would insist on the obliteration of the Amalekites.
The recent acts of evil by ISIS (ISIL) are “real-time” illustrations of how difficult Jesus’ command seems. ISIS is active in capturing and slaughtering Coptic Christians, journalists, individuals working for humanitarian organizations, and Muslims who reject ISIL’s radical ideology. These acts are more than atrocious — they are evil!
Somehow this present day iniquitous behavior encourages me to sing with the Psalmist, longing for God to intervene with acts of righteous judgments. I often find myself praying: “Please God, in your mercy, intervene for those living with such atrocities! Please stop the forces of evil!”
Samuel’s words also resonate with my deep emotions when I witness the senseless, unjustifiable acts of violence. I find myself hoping that — as horrible as it sounds — that “Jihadist John,” and others like him will be annihilated! The slaughter of innocent people who refuse to convert to — or those who choose to renounce — opposing ideas, makes me angry. At least emotionally, I can understand why retaliation against those who inflict inhuman acts of violence may seem reasonable, if not justifiable.
I admit I’m angry at radical ideologies that purport the slaughter of those who fail to agree with their teaching, and who do so in the name of ALLAH (the Arabic word used by Muslims — and often by Arabic speaking Christians — for God). When an ideology seeks to justify the extermination of men, women, and children due to a creedal difference, it conflicts with the teachings of Jesus:
"Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also..."
Jesus’ instructions pose a quandary for me. As a follower of Jesus, I attempt to live my life by Christ’s commands. I am far from mastering perfection in my obedience to the LORD’s requirements. I continue to be a candidate for God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness. Despite my sinfulness — I desire to obey Christ in all areas of my life.
However, I must admit: praying for my enemies is not my first inclination, let alone loving them or blessing them with kindness... especially when they are evil! It is counter-intuitive to my nature. So, what is it that Jesus wants me to discover?
Jesus wants me to learn the difference between my feelings and my actions. Like a caboose that follows the engine of a train, loving feelings follow loving actions. Jesus’ instruction is directed toward my “will,” not my “feeling.”
An appropriate “feeling,” when diabolical acts of unjust force are imposed upon the innocent, is to be angry! Without anger, a proper action to stop the effects of Hitler would not have occurred. The lesson is: Jesus desires my response to be a result of my will, not my emotion.
It’s easy for us to respond with kindness and love to those who treat us kindly and lovingly. However, to love our enemy, to bless them and wish the very best for them, cannot happen without the intentional act of our will, which must submit to the purpose of Christ.
Perhaps I’m a little radical. I still believe it’s possible to love those who disagree with me, to do good to those who do not fit in my box, to bless those who malign me, and to pray for my enemies.
“Lord, in your mercy, I ask that you bless those who curse me. Create in me a new heart, capable of acting with purpose, and to avoid reacting with emotion. Grace those who suffer and grieve today and give strength to those who experience acts of violence. Empower them with courage, hope, and faith - Amen.”
 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), 1 Sa 15:2–3
● What do you “feel” when faced with the atrocities seen in our world?
● Who is your enemy? How have you been treated unjustly?
● How might it be possible to accept your anger for what it is, while choosing to respond from your “will” rather than your “feeling?”
● How might your feelings of anxiety change if you were to pray for your enemies?
● How might prayer change the hearts of your enemies – and yours?