“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour 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.
The words of Jesus. Matthew 5 43-45.
I was the girl in the school playground who was a little too gentle, and far more ‘responsible’ than I ever should have been as a child. Other children knew I could be trusted to help, to listen, to be kind. But, I was also an easy target for bullies.
As an adult I do not have many enemies, however I have at times suffered the unkindness of weak and selfish people who have wanted to try to control and manipulate others to meet their own needs.
I struggle to love such people. Does God really want me to love them?
I have friends who have suffered terribly at the hands of other human beings, physically and emotionally. Perhaps you have too.? Are they, or you, required to love these persecutors?
Unspeakable atrocities occur in our world daily on account of evil people. How can we possibly love the perpetrators of such acts of deliberate hatred?
To all those who read or listened to Old Testament Bible stories as a child, King Ahab and Queen Jezebel will be etched on their minds as ‘evil’. Not the devilish characters of ghostly tales, nor of witches, wizards and broomsticks, but rather two privileged individuals who proudly chose to defy the living God.
Reading these same stories as an adult is unsettling. Not for the extent of evil in them (this is sadly all too familiar in our world) but rather that it challenges my notion of God and his handling of evil people.
God is very patient with Ahab in this story as it is recorded in 1 Kings. Maybe too patient for my liking even. I am especially offended by Ahab’s treatment of Naboth. On several occasions we read about Ahab’s disagreeable personality and his tendency to becoming sullen and angry when he does not get his own way. Yet God delays judgement on this narcissistic individual because he ‘humbles himself before God’ for a brief time only.
Yet, even as I’ve put my complaint to paper about God’s handling of Ahab, deep down I know that I too have done things to offend God and others. I need God to give me time to change, to allow him to kindly and patiently draw me into a frame of mind where I can make amends and restore my relationships with God and others.
All this makes perfect logic in my head but in my heart, I still struggle to love my enemies. I’ve carefully tended the wounds of past hurts with healthy doses of rationality and success and now that I’m forty eight years old, I’ve figured out a tried and tested formula for dealing with bullies in a way that makes me no longer fear them.
We talk glibly about emotional scars as if they were literal tears in the muscle of our hearts which can be mended or healed. Human traumas are processed in ways which psychologists and psychiatrists are still unable to fully understand. Complex neural pathways and multiple confounding factors.
And so, it may seem like an oversimplification, or brave naivety to suggest that when we love our enemies as a Christian we have stepped out of human love and adopted God’s love. In many ways, however, this externalisation is actually how I love my enemies in practice. I ask God to fill me with His love for them; to give me patience; to not only pray for them to be humble before God and to change but to allow them the time to do this.
God cares deeply about the oppressed, the bereaved, orphans, the poor, the ill-treated. He tells us that He defends them himself and encourages us to do the same as Christians. God does not want us to allow ourselves to be disrespected or abused in any way at all, but he also grants us the dignity of the strength of His amazing love where human love is impossible.