December 17, 2017

Christians Need More Enemies

A word from Chaplain Mike:

This is the first of what I hope will be many posts by good friend Damaris Zehner.

Thanks, Damaris!

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: “Thereâ’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.

Comments

  1. I have a slew of “slightly annoying people whom I can handle on my own, thanks”. I handle them by largely ignoring them and their antics. They live in the no-man’s land I have created between friend and enemy, so I am not forced spiritually to deal with them in any way.

    Well, that’s sure something to think about.

  2. Ouch. Off to work on my list of “slightly annoying people whom it turns out I need to love and forgive.”

  3. Whether or not all people fall into one of two categories, to me , is besides the point, the point is: all men are to be loved, enemy or not. Put them in whatever category you want, but they are to be loved, there is no “out of bounds” category where the gospel does not reach. If it helps a person to think of all people being either friend or enemy, in order to put this truth into action , great, but to me this logic is a little forced.

    I appreciate the identification of our lame excuses to not love. These need to be identified and rooted out. FOr that, this post is useful to me.

    should get some good discussion on this post
    nice work
    Greg R

  4. I do have some enemies.

    And that word of law (the command to love them) condemns me.

    I cannot remember the last time I invited someone that I intensely disliked over to dinner.

    Well…I guess I need a Savior.

    • JeffA aka Kingschyld says:

      Was thinking something similar myself this evening. I have been inviting the ‘ beautiful people’ from church to break bread with me. Maybe I need to ask the not so good looking to sup with me.

  5. Jonah was called to go to the Ninevites and became angry when God chose to save them. They were the enemy! Jonah 4:10 – And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”

    How often do we love our job/house/pet/plants/etc. and hate our “enemies”?

    Thank you for this reminder to love those whom it would be easier to hate.

  6. Excellent article. You put your finger on our beleaguered thinking and exposed our unbiblical way of responding to those who irritate and even oppose. I also appreciate your direct challenge to those who are badmouthing political leaders. I have received emailed articles from Christians that are so unlike Christ that I simply hit the delete button. If we speak and behave like that as Christians, what message are we passing on to our neighbors and colleagues? What will they know of Christ’s love? Thanks for the thought-provoking challenge.

    Jane R

  7. David Cornwell says:

    In my entire lifetime I’ve never heard of people actually praying for the death of the President of the United States until recently. I cannot find where Jesus Christ instructed us to do so. Way back in the last century, in the 1960’s I went to school a year in Washington, DC. Kennedy was President. On Sunday I sometimes attended National Presbyterian Church and heard Edward L. R. Elson preach. This was partly because he was a graduate of Asbury College, my alma mater. Anyway during his morning prayer, he always, without fail, prayed for the President. He did this regardless of the party in power or his personal preference. It was his duty.

    I’ll admit it is very hard to pray for some people. But we must.

    Damaris, keep up the good writing.

  8. Brother Bartimaeus says:

    Thanks for your good and thoughtful words, Brother Damaris. It seems to me that many of us have no enemies because we don’t engage enough outside our cocoons. And, as you say, when someone does cross us, we right them off and disengage to maintain the peace.

    I’d also submit that Jesus doesn’t really want us to just love our enemies, he wants us to serve them. Think of the Roman soldier, certainly an enemy to the Jews and early Christians. You were legally obligated under Roman law to carry it for one mile, no more. Jesus says carry his pack an extra mile. Serve him, show him kindness, take the extra time to minister to him, let your example of servanthood by Christ in his life. Go the extra mile, and your enemy may become your brother.

    Peace and blessings

    • Thank you for your kind words. You make an excellent point about not just loving but serving.

      If I may mention it, Damaris is a woman’s name, although not a common one. It appears one time in Acts 17:34. A common mistake.

      • Brother Bartimaeus says:

        Many humble apologies to you my Sister! Ah the hazzards of relative anonymity on the Internet. I once knew a guy who we called Damaris, but now that I think about it was his last name. Hopefully I won’t end up on your enemies list, although it sounds like it may not be too bad a place to be.

        • Damaris says:

          I’m scrapping all lists, as greg r suggests! There is only one category for us. Bless you.

  9. I have not yet figured out how to love those who advocate that we should not love. I cannot find a way to include those who insist that we should always exclude others not like us.

    • Me neither. The extraordinary thing about God’s love is that it is a manifestation of His nature, not something drawn forth by our deserving. “For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” That’s the way we will love one day when we live completely in Him and He in us.

  10. When I got my decade beads from Alan Creech Rosaries (obligatory plug for one of the sponsors of internetmonk.com), I initially used them to remember to pray for 10 people I really cared about. After a while I thought that maybe I should also use them to pray for 10 people that really tick me off. The problem was, other than my brother (who qualifies for both lists) I couldn’t think of anybody! There were faceless ideological groups, but I didn’t really have any enemy to love. Makes my faith pool seem a little shallow, now that I think about it.

  11. I wrote Christian articles from a conservative perspective on a liberal arts campus. Trust me, I learned about loving one’s enemies. I still remember the time I was warned to not travel at night after one article.

  12. This is something I deal with most days of the week. I have a job in retail. A large number of the customers are my enemies. Wow, I said it out loud. There is also a coworker who requires extra patience and understanding. This person is also my enemy. If I forget to ask God to help me deal with the, sometimes, continual aggravation, it can be a bad day. So far this has been going on for four years and I’m still not very good at it. On those days that I have patience, only with God’s grace, it might not be that bad a day!

    • Christopher Lake says:

      Carol,

      I once worked in retail for two and a half years, in the call center of a major American company, answering customer’s questions. I was often treated badly by the callers. Those experiences taught me to have MUCH more patience with, and sympathy for, other workers in retail.

      Alas, for most of my time in that job, I was not a Christian, so I can’t necessarily say that it added to my sanctification. If I ever go *back* to that sort of job though, I know to love my enemies and bless those who curse me (on the phone).

  13. It astounds me how lost the issue of unconditional love is on so much of the North American Church. This morning I found myself thinking, ‘We tell ourselves that in Jesus it doesn’t matter what you’ve done, who you’ve been, where you’ve been etc. We tell ourselves that Jesus accepts us and loves us as we are – flawed and broken. This is our loop. The Church espouses this message so incessantly that I am coming to believe that it has become numb to the full import of the message. If this is true, if we are loved despite _______, then…… and I might be wrong…… aren’t we supposed to love others like Jesus loves us!? So why do we love in a way that says very clearly that it does matter what you’ve done and where you’ve been or what you’ve looked at!’ What if the best that I can be is flawed and broken? What if while in this mortal coil the best that I can achieve is miles below the apex of perfection (certainly it will be)? Will I be cast out? Cut off? I need to know that I as flawed and broken is good enough. I need to know that this will not make me unlovable. In my relationship with God I have this security, but in my relationship(s) with other Christians I do not. In those relationships, more and more, I encounter a vitriol whose only foundation appears to be high minded religious idealism that has a set of principles at its very core where there should be people, love and forgiveness.

    A correlating thought that I believe has a transferable principle within it: many Christians walk into a person’s life and immediately denounce their beliefs and their worldview as ungodly and sinful. How tragic. How ugly. In Acts we see Paul going into a town and meeting with people who do not know God, and instead of mercilessly plunging their beliefs into heresy and telling them how wrong they are, he looks for truth and for an active God who causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and who sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous, and when he sees God active in their lives and hears His truth he applauds them for knowing that truth. After validating their worldview he sets in on discussing the nature and reality of God and seeks to show them how they have attributed that truth incorrectly to a false god. In this way they do not abandon what they have believed to be true, rather, they place that truth into its proper context, and in so doing, that truth flourishes.

    One last thought, in Dostoevsky’s ‘Notes from the Underground’, the main protagonist speaks about how in order to be human, in order to be free and alive, the human being must be allowed the liberty to err, to make a bad decision and to choose that which is contrary to the best. In light of God’s mercy and grace, which covers such flawed and dangerous freedom, the Church should be championing this position and standing at the front lines of such autonomy. The worst thing that one human being could to another is to take away their freedom. May the North American Church come to believe in unconditional love and a more gentle evangelism that is compassionate, sensitive and respectful of people.

  14. Denise Spencer says:

    Wonderful piece; very thought-provoking and so true. Keep the essays coming, Damaris!

  15. I guess we are just to always remember that at one point we were enemies of God. I truly struggle with the people who say all kinds of false things about me (my ex fiance’s family) and I am to be in contact with them as my ex and I have children. Last night my dream was filled with his parents telling me everything that is wrong with me and what I must do to make everything ‘white picket all right’, it was disturbing. A few weeks ago his mother asked something of me and I wasn’t able on that day to meet her need and I explained why – it had nothing to do with her personally – I was just not able to allow her to babysit my kids in my home as I had prospective buyers coming the next morning and I didn’t want to have to be working all day only to come home and clean up my house all night – she got annoyed and called me selfish – then she said it again and I totally lost my temper and told her to go f… herself – major fail! Yet in all this mess, if I am totally honest, as I harbor my own bitterness and resentment and wounds of being so misunderstood, I end up becoming my own enemy. This is something that has been weighing me down for so long and I am desperate for relief – I believe I do my best to forgive and continue in relationship with them yet some of the injustice I feel toward myself is so debilitating when I just don’t know what to do about it. I try to leave it alone and allow God to vindicate me if there is anything to vindicate yet somedays…oh boy…I guess I needed to get that out hey! My dream was disturbing. Then I fear God if I can’t find it in myself to continue to love in the face of this mess. As to the ex fiance – whole other dimension.

    • Damaris says:

      That’s an interesting extension of this idea, Debbie, that we are our own enemies, too. Even then we are called to love, not to the kind of dramatic self-hate that some people think is pious. If we are to love others as we love ourselves, then that assumes that we do love ourselves. C.S. Lewis has the best treatment of what it means to love ourselves in his book Mere Christianity. It’s in Book 3, Chapter 7, “Forgiveness.” Have you read that?

      • Debbie says:

        I read CS Lewis a long time ago – maybe time for a re-read. I have just often found that learning to love ‘me’ as I become my own enemy truly helps me on the path to loving those who I perceive as my enemy – maybe out of my own struggle to accept love and forgiveness for myself from God a compassion is born for ‘the enemy’ outside of me.

  16. I thought the Homosexual community was your enemy.

    • Damaris says:

      Why did you say that, thelamb?

      • Savannah says:

        I simply cannot imagine why thelamb said that. . .

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        1) Provocateur troll.

        2) That’s what gets preached from a lot of Culture War pulpits.

        3) Who died and made Fred Phelps THE media spokesman for all American Christians?

    • Christopher Lake says:

      The homosexual community is not my enemy, thelamb. Even if it were (which again, it’s not), Christians are called to love their enemies.

      Anyway, where is this entity that you describe as “the Homosexual community”? As far as I know, both homosexuals and heterosexuals live in many different communities throughout the world….

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Only way the phrase “homosexual community” makes sense is if you figure sexual orientation/behavior automatically confers a tribal identity. You see that a lot on both sides of the Culture War.

        Problem is, Straight or Gay as tribal identities mean you end up defined (and self-defined) largely or entirely by what you do (or don’t do) with your gonads. I have this suspicion that we were supposed to be more than a set of active (or inactive) gonads. If your sexual identity is ALL you are, so much of the rest of You has been lost you’re on the edge of no longer being human.

  17. I really appreciate the article, Damaris, and I agree with it whole-heartedly.
    What I wonder, then, is this; What if a government somewhere in the world tells its Christian, Christ-following citizens who their enemies are, and then proceeds to tell those Christ followers how to treat said enemies?

    exactly how far to we let Christ go? How much room do we allow Christ to have?

    Christ is great as long as He doesn’t interfere with foreign, or domestic policy?

    A little religion is good as long as it doesn’t get out of hand?

    Listen, I know that Hitler and the Nazis were evil and needed to be stopped, but so was Stalin who killed more people than Hitler did, and we were allied with him, and never liberated the thousands who were in HIS concentration camps.

    My point is simply this. You really want to be a Christ-follower? You really want to have a Jesus-shaped spirituality? Then your priorities, values and perspectives will be radically different than the world’s.

    I am not at all saying that you can’t be in the military and be a follower of Christ, that would be totally wrong. But I am saying that there is much to think about, pray about and seek the Lord’s will about in regards to these issues, and these teachings of Jesus.

    Remember, there were evil people who “needed” to be taken care of in Jesus’ day as well. Jesus spoke the truth firmly and forcefully and even cleansed the Temple, but He never killed anyone in all of that.

    Yes, He is God the Son and God has and will judge the wicked and take lives. He will return as a conquering king according to the book of Revelation. But, as far as I know, Christians, disciples of Jesus are not instructed to kill unbelievers, because they are evil and deserve it. I seem to recall a time, before God saved me by His grace, that I was an enemy of Christ and was deserving death also.

    Just some things to ponder.

    • cey, your comment was particularly interesting to me as a member of the military. I believe this quotation was mentioned before. It’s from C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, and speaks directly to this question:

      “Does loving your enemy mean not punishing him? No, for loving myself does not mean I ought not to subject myself to punishment, even to death. If you had committed a murder, the right Christian thing to do would be to give yourself up to the police and be hanged . . . There are two Greek words, to kill and to murder, and when Christ quotes that commandment he uses the murder one in all three Gospel accounts. All killing is not murder any more than all sexual intercourse is adultery . . ”

      He cites occasions when soldiers talked to John the Baptist and to Jesus, and neither of them condemned the soldiers for their job. So, he asks rhetorically, if killing is okay, what is the difference between the Christian and secular views?

      “All the difference in the world. Remember, we Christians think man lives forever . . . Even while we kill and punish we must try to feel about the enemy as we feel about ourselves – to wish that he were not bad, to hope that he may, in this world or another, be cured; in fact, to wish his good.”

      While we are not instructed to kill people merely because they deserve it (we’d all have to start with suicide), I do think that God works through people in warfare as He does in everything else. Christianity, as the one truth about the world, is simply BIG enough to encompass everything, to be as relevant and as necessary and as holy in a foxhole as in a cathedral. God works in all things for good, even warfare – whether on a large scale such as the defeat of the Nazis, or on a small scale such as the change in one individual heart (which, considering eternity, is even greater).

      Regarding the behavior of Christians at war, I once read a short story by a secular author which I thought was shockingly profound. The villain is a renegade priest trying to rescue a powerful holy artifact from what he considers an unworthy guardian. In order to get his hands on this, he murders several people and takes a child hostage. At the end, the protagonist’s Christian friend confronts this man and says, “How dare you think that it’s up to you to decide to sacrifice your conscience and sin to accomplish God’s work? Your soul is not your own to lose!”

      Just because you’re in war does not justify giving up Christian virtues and deciding you must be a monster for the sake of a political ideology or even a Better World. You’re still responsible for yourself, for good and for ill. That means do what’s right, under the commitments you have made, and then don’t be ashamed.

      In some ways, joining the military can be good for you, since you are going to have to learn patience, humility, long-suffering, and acceptance of what life brings. But the bottom line is, you are right when you say that much prayer and thought is needed on the subject.

  18. A post worthy of iMonk himself…

  19. Anna A says:

    Demaris,

    I find this posting most interesting. Today, my pastor preached on the passage in John 13:31-35. Father emphasized that we are to love each other. But, the sad part is that he tended to emphasize the fact that we should be loving our fellow Christians. He actually said that no where in the Bible did Jesus say that we had to love everyone in the world. (True, but He did say that we were to love our enemies. )