What’s so complicated about ‘love your enemies’?
If there’s one thing I don’t understand about modern Christianity in America, it’s this: The offensiveness of enemy love.
If one takes a public stand against, say, most any sin you can think of, one is considered “courageous” and a “defender of the faith.” Folks will quickly applaud you and tell you how much they admire you for “taking a stand” on biblical truth.
Except if you quote Matt. 5:44 and invite people to apply it in any sort of meaningful, literal way. The moment one begins to talk about loving your enemies they all of a sudden become “liberals,” “extremists,” or are accused of completely taking an otherwise straight forward passage “out of context.”
I’ve been trying to figure out why this is the case for quite some time. I must admit, out of all of the controversial topics I’ve tackled on my blog, I continue to be amazed at how infuriating the topic of enemy love is for people, and for the many ways folks will bend their theology into a pretzel to get around this requirement of following Jesus. I am growing more and more convinced that there is no teaching in all of scripture more offensive to American Christians as is the command of enemy love.
Someone once told me that when Jesus said “love your enemies” he was actually referring to neighbors who you didn’t get along with, and that he certainly didn’t intend for it to include people who hated us.
Others, professed biblical literalists, have frequently asserted to me that Jesus intended enemy love to only go to a certain point, and that if we feel our life is threatened, we need to exercise our right to kill such enemies because “God isn’t glorified if our enemies kill us.”
In the last year, I think I have heard every excuse in the book. The case is clear: enemy love is utterly offensive to the vast majority of American Christianity.
Whereas the Bible says that love is patient and kind, that love is not self-seeking, and all that other inconvenient stuff — for many of us, enemy love ends up looking radically different than the biblical definition. Instead of “love is patient, love is kind, love is not self-seeking, love never fails” it becomes: “love is patient, love is kind, love blows their head off if they break into our house.”
Yet, many Christians continue to brush away what for hundreds of years was considered a clear teaching of Christ in order to cling to our right to kill.
The question becomes: why does following Jesus become so offensive to many Christians? What is so complicated about loving our enemies?
Here’s what I think:
We don’t agree with God yet.
You see, everyone on this planet has intrinsic value and unsurpassable worth to God. When we think back to the first verse that many of us memorized in Sunday School growing up, we remember that “for God so loved the world . . . ” God’s love overflows for everyone — because everyone bears his divine image.
As I’ve heard Greg Boyd say many times in making this argument, our job then becomes to simply agree with God that this person has so much worth and so much value to God, that Jesus died for them.
But, I’m not sure that we’re always ready to agree with God. It is far easier to say, “My life has more value because they are _______ (insert judgement).”
A common scenario I often pose to people is: “What if you had two children, and one was violently attacking the other? Would you kill the guilty child or would you find a third way to handle the situation?” Most people agree that they’d find a third way — one that perhaps could get them killed — because they love and value both children too much to ever take their life away. Love then becomes something that’s willing to die, but something that is likewise unwilling to kill.
You see, it is easy to agree with God that a human life has too much worth to take when it is our own children. However, when it comes to the life of our enemy, we still rebelliously refuse to agree with God that such a person’s life could have equal value to our own. Instead of agreeing with God, we prefer to judge which life has more value, and hold onto our rights to extinguish the life we feel is of lesser value.
I get it. Self sacrifice offends our senses.
When we realize that if we truly love our enemies it means we’ll refuse to kill our enemies, we realize that it might actually mean we could die at the hands of our enemies. This is insane!
And, they’re right — this would seem like utter insanity if it were not for the fact that this is exactly what Jesus did! As followers of Jesus, called to live like Jesus and emulate Jesus, it should not come as a shock to our system that in doing so, some of us might actually die like Jesus.
Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not blow the head off another.
Instead, love affirms worth and value to even the ones who appear vile and guilty.
Sometimes, love even sacrifices — dying in place of someone, instead of killing someone.
It’s radical. It’s offensive. It’s insane apart from the cross of Christ.
Ben Corey is an author, writer, speaker and minister from Auburn, Maine. This first appeared on his blog, Formerly Fundie, where he discusses the intersection of faith and culture from a progressive/emergent/neo-anabaptist vantage point.
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