Love Your Enemies?Columns, Essays — By M. Morford on May 21, 2012 at 4:54 am
‘Love your enemies’ is a phrase as old as the Bible. It is a line we primarily ignore because we don’t know what to do with it – largely because we have no idea what it means.
‘Love’ means to know intimately, and to some degree, respect and value – to have a continuing engagement with someone or something.
An ‘enemy’ is someone who is consistently, steadfastly against us. ‘Adversary’ might be a better word for the person – or entity – we are ‘against’.
But ‘against’ presumes a relationship – or connection. We might lean a ladder ‘against’ a wall for example. If we are ‘against’ someone – or something – we have a direct, continuing and, for whatever reason or means, reciprocal arrangement.
It is one thing to be bothered or annoyed by someone, but it is a whole other thing to have an ‘enemy’ worthy of us. A worthy enemy, somewhat like a lasting friend, must be earned, if not nurtured.
We might as well ‘love’ our enemies – we are locked in life with them. In a very real way, we are defined by them. In fact, as Bob Dylan put it, we are in danger of becoming our enemies “In the instant that I preach”.
And, one would hope, we could learn from our enemies. At least potentially, we learn at least as much about ourselves as we do about the world from those who stand against us.
On a psychological level, every “I” stands in contrast – if not direct opposition to every other “I” – and every past, present or future ‘other’.
The Bible, as always, has something to say on this issue – and it’s not just the New Testament. The book of Job lists as a major sin disrespect of one’s enemy, and Job, as an individual knows he is cursed by God -
“If I have rejoiced at my enemy’s misfortune or gloated over the trouble that came to him— I have not allowed my mouth to sin by invoking a curse against their life”— Job 31:29-30
And one of the most formative culturally defining experiences of Israel was the time of the Jews’ ‘captivity’ in Egypt. Most Christians think of Egypt as the enemy of the people of Israel, but consider what the Bible actually says: the people of Israel entered Egypt as a small extended family (about 70 people, see Genesis 46:27 or Exodus 1:5) and left Egypt as a unified and defined people.
And Jesus reminds us in Matthew 5:44-45 (NIV), quite contrary to our personal preferences, “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”
In other words, this is how we become ‘children of God’ – by loving our enemies.
Or consider Paul’s observation in Galations 4:16 – “Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?”
How often have we seen this sense of an honorable opposition in myths and movies? How many times have we observed the equal and opposite enemy to the hero, who, except for the circumstances of his life, upbringing, political ideology, or financial situation, might have been the hero’s best friend? Unfortunately, though, beyond his own will, he is cast in life as the hero’s evil opposite. Evenly matched, with a sense of honor that allows the hero to trust him in ultimate life or death situations, and with his own hard-won respect for the hero, the worthy opponent also fights according to the same –or even higher – standards of fairness as the hero; he will not shoot in the back, and may even prevent someone else from doing so. In military situations, he will obey the highest, not the lowest, codes of war.
For whatever reason, the worthy adversary knows that true courage is standing up honorably – at whatever cost – and cowardice, or taking unfair advantage, is unworthy and poisons any victory.
The worthy opponent will negotiate honestly or even allow the wounded hero to escape to fight another day. He will invariably even the terms of a fight when he possesses a clear advantage, often being unwilling to fight an unarmed foe (either discarding his weapon or allowing the protagonist to reclaim his own), and waiting until an unconscious enemy has woken and can engage in an honorable duel to the death, because they must settle (and finish) things like honorable gentlemen. He would not dispatch the wounded hero even when the hero tells him to.
The worthy adversary recognizes his own opponent as an equal – and as an individual – as unique and precious in the eyes of God as any of us.
In this landscape of honor, there are no ‘good-guys’ or ‘bad-guys’. All stand in need of God’s righteousness, all may be used in God’s purposes, and none of us stands in full knowledge of the striations and complications of human affairs, let alone God’s eternal purposes.
May we all be worthy of those who stand, usually with as much integrity and wisdom as we have, solidly against us. May we be worthy adversaries as well.