November 22, 2017

Fridays with Damaris Zehner: Another Look — Christians Need More Enemies

Sleepy Dog, Disgruntled Cat #2. Photo by dixie wells

Note from CM: Today’s repost is the first that Damaris wrote for us at IM, back in 2010. Readers could see her insight and prodigious writing talent from the very beginning, and I’m glad she’s been able to continue with us over the years. I’m blest to call her a friend and colleague.

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We Christians ought to have more enemies.

This post is not about fat and happy Christians needing more suffering to test their faith. It’s not about standing up for what we believe, regardless of who we offend. It’s not about drawing a circle around ourselves that leaves out everyone who doesn’t agree with us.

It’s about the commandment in the Bible to love our enemies and to forgive them.

I was reading that passage recently. It hit me: “There’s no one I call my enemy.” Maybe that’s a good thing. My life has been an easy and comfortable one compared to many people’s. I’m not persecuted, imprisoned, impoverished, or the victim of prejudice. And maybe I’m such a nice person that everyone likes me and I like everyone else.

Well, no. Let’s not go that far.

So therefore, if I have no enemies, I have no one I need to forgive or make an effort to love, right? When I arrived at that conclusion, I began to get suspicious of my thought process. I really don’t think that love and forgiveness are optional in the Bible. They are the irreducible way of the cross, as the Lord’s Prayer makes clear. If we have to learn forgiveness, what was someone like me to do, someone with a pretty good life and no enemies to forgive? Obviously, find some enemies.

According to Matthew 5:44, an enemy is someone who despitefully uses me. Has anyone done that? Well, yes, several people have done that. Have the people around me loved me as they love themselves? Have they sought my good? No, not all of them. Has anyone hurt me, insulted me, ignored me, disagreed with me in a hateful way? Certainly.

Are these people then my enemies? Enmity seems like a big word for such minor offenses. I’m almost ashamed to use it when other Christians are being tortured and killed. But if I allow a category of people who have hurt me in some way but who are not my enemies, then I have a category of people I don’t need to forgive. All these people who aren’t really my enemies: I can gripe about them, cut them down, avoid them, act sour or distant to them — but I don’t need to forgive them, because they aren’t torturing or killing me.

That’s a dangerous way to think. Is this kind of thinking really a problem among Christians other than me?

I believe it is. I noticed during the last election, for example, a torrent of hateful speech about our current president. Life-long Christians spoke with venom about Barack Obama and passed on gossip that had been proven to be untrue. Some even joked — I didn’t laugh — about killing him, which is treason in addition to sin. But if I had asked them, “Is Barack Obama your enemy?” most would have said no. They too had a category of people whom they didn’t have to love but also didn’t have to forgive.

It sounds funny, and a little paranoid, to say we need to identify more people as enemies. But once we have, then we can learn to forgive and to love as God has forgiven and loved us. We think it’s Christian to shrug off and minimize offenses, but if by doing so we absolve ourselves from the duty to be like Jesus, then we are doing wrong.

I posted a comment after an iMonk article recently, that there are only two categories of people: friends, whom I have to love, and enemies, whom I have to love. There is no other category; no “slightly annoying people whom I can handle on my own, thanks;” no “wrong-headed politicians who haven’t harmed me personally but whom I’m free to slander if I want.” If you can’t call someone a friend, then call him an enemy, but love him and forgive him, as God has commanded us to do.

And I’d highly recommend avoiding people who electronically or in the flesh act as if there’s a third category of people we’re allowed to hate. But be careful — if those hatemongers are our enemies, we have to love them, too.

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Photo by dixie wells at Flickr. Creative Commons License

Comments

  1. Robert F says:

    I agree, Damaris. To define the word enemy so narrowly that it only applies to those who would take my life or destroy my home and family is to miss how Jesus’ teaching challenges people in every era, ancient or modern. If my father sexually molests me, he is my enemy; if my boss unfairly holds me to a different standard than my fellow employees, and then disciplines or fires me for not meeting it, she is my enemy; if I am a gay person, and my government asserts that civil rights laws do not protect me from unfair treatment by my employer on the basis of sexual orientation, then it is my enemy; if you defame me by gossiping about me behind my back, you are my enemy; if you assault me with insults, in public or private, you are my enemy. Every human being has enemies, and, no doubt, there are other people who think of us as their enemy.

  2. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    Great post.

    ” “There’s no one I call my enemy.” – My initial thought: You need to get out more! 🙂

  3. StuartB says:

    Love rescue me
    Come forth and speak to me
    Raise me up and don’t let me fall
    No man is my enemy
    My own hands imprison me
    Love rescue me

  4. I recall someone saying that Jesus told us to love our neighbors, and to love our enemies, because often they’re the same people.

  5. I’ve always suspected that the real reason people are quick to “demonize” those they don’t like or agree with is because they know that demons are a group (maybe the only group) that they can hate without reproach.

  6. Rick Ro. says:

    So this character J, who pops up every now and then on iMonk anti-Christian grenade tossing (as he/she did yesterday)…we need to love him/her?

    And this fellow Seneca Griggs, who is the polar opposite of J in terms of theological thinking but who seems to annoy most everyone at iMonk (he doesn’t bother me all that much)…we need to love him, too?

    🙂

    • Ron Avra says:

      I have to concede that they stretch me. I have to work harder to enjoy my coffee.

      • Rick Ro. says:

        I bristle at almost every single J post. I know Seneca has that effect on others here. What’s the answer? I have no idea.

        • Christiane says:

          maybe the ‘answer’ is not to ‘react’ because that feeds into whatever it is that is motivating their negativity

          I don’t think they need ‘silencing’, no . . . . . I expect they need to vent the poison and not have someone ‘react’ to it, which might help ‘extinguish’ their urge to vent and get a rise out of people which gives the poor souls a sense of ‘control’ over the conversation

          sadly, there was an almost too true example on the movie ‘Top Gun’ about how to view ‘put-down artists’:
          where pilot ‘Goose’ says ‘They were abused children’

          well, these days, that may not be so far from the truth

          we could all do with a little ‘long-suffering’ and ‘patience’ around these wounded people, so that they can find some place where their poison doesn’t work and maybe, after a while, they will begin to communicate with less and less venom (?) OR not finding that their words are powerful to draw a reaction, they might leave and go elsewhere until they find a place where people take them as they are, hear them, and don’t give back the same anger . . . . it might be therapeutic, kind of like beauty for ashes 🙂

    • Ron Avra says:

      I probably need to make tired dog and grumpy cat my icon. (I never figured out how to do that; I thought my google pic would just fill in, but it never has. It it people’s Facebook pic that shows up with their post?)

      • Dana Ames says:

        Ron,

        you have to go to Google and select an avatar. I did it long enough ago that I forgot how I did it 🙂 While on that page, you can browse through the photos on your computer and select one to upload; it will then automatically display on most sites when you comment. If you don’t have the dog & cat photo, save it to your photo file, then proceed.

        Dana

  7. Thank you for taking time for this each week.

  8. Our enemies are not flesh and blood but the principalities that are above that. Paraphrasing a bit. There are so many things that become an enemy. For instance my neighbor who is a man and doesn’t close the blinds while taking a shower so my wife might see him. It hurts and it goes beyond that at times as I have seen. What do I do? I’m not going to count on my physical stature or put certain things to a test. I trust my wife…………………………What choice do I got. Enemies are not people for me at least. Enemies are what is behind the action that people make.

    Why is it so hard to drive the interstates and watch people go in and out of traffic putting everyone at risk including themselves. I don’t know. To go to work or get home????? I was kind of hoping most just had to go to the bathroom. Been there once or twice…….(lol) Really if they could stop what’s going on inside them for a minute they wouldn’t be doing that. To many little worlds in a world. Like little gods that the Greeks called demons spelled differently. Do we have them……….Lord have Merci…….people are hard to love for various reasons, thank God he nailed it to a tree.

    Nice writing and always something to think about thank you

  9. Christiane says:

    we can’t ‘control’ what others do or say, but we can control (or try to) our own responses; and depending on our wisdom (or lack thereof) we may find that it’s often the unexpected response that has the better effect 🙂

    • What others do or say only serves to make them hard to love. What goes beyond that is the things that drive them to think and say. As far as me I will continue to be the best neighbor I can as I have always done. My hope is always that my wife who is far better then me with people will continue and the little world my neighbor is now living in will be destroyed by it.

      I as far as I can will keep silent and work towards what ever I have to. I will continue to be the best neighbor I can. I’m not even sure what that is only I have to rely on the wind and breath to help me. When I think of those on the interstates and the fatal accidents I just pray because I don’t know what else to do. I have seen to many…….Wet cheeks again

  10. Gosh, I didn’t even read this post until Saturday.

    I’m opposed to theological liberalism, would disagree with most of the liberal posters on I-Monk in the theological [ and sometimes political] arenas, but don’t even think in terms of hate. I avoid Ad hominem attacks on others; but receive them all the time. Big whoop.

    In real life; I have a bunch of friends. Well regarded where I work. try to treat others quite civily.

    My wife and kids love me. They are always in my prayers – on a daily basis.

    I can, and do, disagree with people’s perspective but generally don’t take it personally.