Love Your Enemies, Guard Your Heart

I rarely use the verb “hate” when speaking about a person because I was taught that hating people is wrong. Instead, I choose words that basically mean the same thing: I “despise” or “can’t stand” him or her.  Or I use words that are a bit softer than the word hate:  I “dislike” or “don’t care” for the person who rubs me the wrong way. Sometimes I say as Christians often do, that I hate the behavior rather than the person; hate the sin, love the sinner.

The night after the presidential election, I had a dream – a nightmare really – that The Apprentice star was having a victory parade with thousands of people cheering. I yelled out, “I hate him!” My sleeping mind was honest. Over the many months of the campaign, I was so repulsed by the Nightmare’s words that I couldn’t stand to watch him. I still can’t bear to listen to him or see his face for more than a few seconds. I hold his dishonesty, self-centeredness, and meanness in contempt. I despise his self-aggrandizement and his ugliness towards anyone who doesn’t praise him.

But I knew I had to put my anger to bed and accept the new reality, no matter how abhorrent it is to me. Anger is a dangerous emotion that fuels hate and makes it so you can’t see straight. Anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires (James 1:20, NIV). Even though my anger at bad behavior is justified, I can’t nurse it. Instead, I am called to love and defend the people who are hurt by his anti-gospel message. I put my hope in the gospel, not politics.

The man who starred in my nightmare is not a personal enemy to me but he is an enemy of goodness. He is an enemy of honesty and integrity, justice and mercy for the oppressed, freedom of speech, and the religious freedom of non-Christians. He bullies and persecutes his enemies. I can hate what he does and says but I must have some measure of compassion for him.

How do I love someone who is wicked, especially when I know that God doesn’t like wickedness either? Proverbs says that God hates a perverse man (3:32), a false witness who pours out lies (6:19), a heart that devises wicked schemes (6:18), and all of the proud of heart (16:5). Jesus condemned greed, self-indulgence, pride and hypocrisy. How am I to love a sinner if I can’t see something lovable in him? How do I learn to see the human soul apart from his behavior?

Love Your Enemies

Jesus said that we should love our neighbors and our enemies (Matthew 5:43-45). He even said to pray for those who persecute you. After all, anyone can love people who are easy to love – people who share their interests and beliefs. When Jesus said that we should love our enemies, he did not explain how to do it. Instead, he pointed straight to God. He reminded us that God is kind to both the righteous and the wicked. Loving your enemies is how you show the world that you belong to God. He said that if you don’t forgive others, God will not forgive you (Matthew 6:15).

Jesus illustrated the concept of redeeming, unconditional love in The Parable of the Lost (Prodigal) Son. The younger son ran off and squandered everything his father gave him, while the older son worked hard and obeyed his father. When the younger son finally came to his senses, he returned to his father’s home, humbled and ready to confess his sins. His father welcomed him with compassion. He was joyful because his lost son came home.

The prophet Jonah knew that God is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love (Jonah 4:2). Jonah did not want to deliver God’s message to the wicked people of Nineveh. It made him angry that God was merciful. But God said, shouldn’t I have concern for them? Even the wicked are God’s children and when they repent, he shows them mercy.

Learning from Dr. King

I admire the wisdom, courage, and grace of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who had every reason to hate white people. King fought to end racial segregation and other forms of racial inequality. He was beaten and jailed for his nonviolent resistance to social injustice. Yet he chose to love his enemies. He understood the destructive power of hate. Hate begets hate. If you respond to hate with hate, it does nothing but intensify the level of evil in the universe. He said that at some point, you must have the moral sense to break the chain of hate.

Even when I do my best to put aside anger at his wickedness, I do not feel any warmth or affection for my moral enemy. I can’t empathize with him because I don’t understand or share his feelings. Dr. King explained that God does not expect us to love our enemies in the same way we love our friends. It would be ridiculous to expect people to love their oppressors in an affectionate way.

The kind of love we should have for our enemies is agape. Agape is not philia, brotherly love. It is the highest form of love – an unconditional love that transcends circumstances. Dr. King described agape as an understanding, redeeming love motivated by good will for all men. It is not motivated by any quality of its object. In other words, it does not distinguish between worthy and unworthy people. Agape love does not seek its own good but the good of its neighbor. King described this kind of love as “disinterested” in the sense that you are not loving the person because it benefits you to love them. You love them for their own sake.

Dr. King said that agape originates from the need of the other person – “his need for belonging to the best in the human family.” We are all interrelated as human beings – blacks, whites, Christians, Muslims, atheists, gay, straight, etc. No matter how bad we are, we are never completely depraved. Dr. King said that there is something in our nature that responds to goodness. Just as an evil person like Hitler can appeal to the element of evil in us, someone like Jesus or Gandhi can appeal to the element of good in us.

Pitying My Enemy’s Neediness

I pity my enemy, the gloating man of my nightmare. Pity may seem like a strange emotion to feel for a man who has wealth, power and worldly success. After all, pity is compassion for the suffering or misfortune of others. Though he would hardly be called unfortunate in material terms, he lacks something more precious than gold: love. I think the man who lives in luxury suffers from a lack of self-esteem. You can see it in the way the grand tweeter so quickly tears down anyone who wounds his pride. Perhaps denigrating other people is the only way he can feel good about himself. Perhaps he spends so much time talking about how great he is because inside he really does not believe that he is lovable.

I pity a man who does not love his neighbor – immigrants and refugees. I pity the man who does not have the love for others that is evidenced by fruit of the Spirit: peace, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. I pity a man who does not know how to forgive. Without love, he is nothing but a resounding gong.

And I know that the odds of redemption are stacked against him. Yes, he won the election. Yes, he reached the pinnacle of power in the United States government. Yes, he lives in luxury. Yes, millions of people worship him. But as Jesus said, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God (Matthew 19:24). You can’t worship both God and money. It is really hard for someone who worships wealth and material possessions to build his treasures in heaven.

I pity a man who is afraid to look too closely at himself, to engage in honest introspection, because he is missing the opportunity to know God. He is fighting a battle he cannot win unless he surrenders his distorted sense of self. As C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity,

The point is, He wants you to know Him: wants to give you Himself. And He and you are two things of such a kind that if you really get into any kind of touch with Him you will, in fact, be humble – delightedly humble, feeling the infinite relief of having for once got rid of all the silly nonsense about your own dignity which has made you restless and unhappy all your life. He is trying to make you humble in order to make this moment possible: trying to take off a lot of silly, ugly, fancy-dress in which we have all got ourselves up and are strutting about like the little idiots we are.

Will my enemy ever realize that the key to becoming the greatest in the human family is humility? That as long as you strut about like a silly idiot trying to prove your worthiness to the world, you will never know God? I am skeptical but have to keep in mind that if even a tiny corner of his heart is open to God’s goodness, my enemy is redeemable.

Guarding My Heart from Hate

Timothy wrote about the terrible times of the last days. The people he describes sound just like my enemy. So while I need to see him as God does, as a lost son in need of God’s redeeming love and mercy, I also have to guard my own heart against his wickedness. I also have to guard my heart against the destructive power of anger.

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. – 2 Timothy 3:1-5 (NIV)

Learning to love my enemy with a disinterested, redeeming love is going to be hard. But my heart belongs to Jesus and hatred of anyone, no matter how I feel about their behavior, does not sit well in my heart. Above all else, I must guard my heart because everything I do flows from it (Proverbs 4:23).

Real Theological Reflection

One of my favorite songs is Lauren Daigle’s song “First.” She sings beautifully about her desire to seek God above everything else. This desire to seek God, to hear him, to feel him, and to know him is unworldly. Many people today, even those who believe in God, are much more concerned with achieving personal goals, acquiring material possessions, indulging physical desires, being entertained, or even gaining power over other people.

At this point in my life, I am also seeking to know God more deeply. I am seeking because I want to know God’s will for me. I seek God because I want to make sense of a world that seems to get crazier and more wicked by the minute. I want to know my true calling. One of the ways I seek God is through spiritual reflection – reading the Bible and seeking the deeper meaning of the words or reading books by others who have also sought to know God more fully.

Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest, professor, and author of Discernment, described discernment as the ability to distinguish between truth and lies, between good and bad guidance, and between the Holy Spirit and evil spirits. Discernment is also a form of spiritual perception: seeing, knowing, and being known by God. Discernment is seeing through to the deeper meaning because the most interesting things are not visible to our senses.

Spiritual perception requires making yourself vulnerable to God. You can’t see yourself as truthfully and authentically as God does unless you open yourself up to God’s guidance, exposing the things that you don’t want to admit about yourself. It means baring your innermost thoughts and inviting God to search and try you just as King David did when he asked God to know his heart and his thoughts and to reveal any offensive way in his inner being (Psalm 139:23-24).

In confessing my sins, I tend to confess things like anger, impatience, a tendency to judge other people or to compare myself to others, and lately, my lack of courage. I know these things about me. What areas do I not want God to investigate? My selfishness? My willingness to let go of things that are important to me, like financial security?

Nouwen said that he thinks the greatest temptation in life and the greatest enemy of the spiritual life is self-rejection – the fear of not being enough, of not being lovable. If you reject yourself, you expect other people to push you aside. You expect to be ignored or rejected. When we reject ourselves in this way, we contradict God’s voice telling us that we are loved. This is something I have recognized in myself.

Questions for study:

  • Where do I go to find refuge against darkness and confusion?
  • What inner voices have been part of my life?
  • What persistent challenges have kept me in need of discernment? Have these challenges allowed me to assist others?
  • In what ways have I not grown, even as I pray and study and learn from others?

Real theological reflection is thinking with the “mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16); it is reflecting on the painful and joyful realities of each day with the mind of Jesus, thereby raising human consciousness to the knowledge of God’s gentle guidance.

Henry Nouwen, Discernment

The Cost of Free Speech

When I was a kid, I learned the rhyme: sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. While that saying reminds you to draw on your inner strength and believe in yourself no matter what anyone says about you, the idea that words will never hurt is pure fantasy. Sometimes insulting words cause a lot of damage to a person’s self-esteem, especially if repeated often enough. Sometimes a bad choice of words damages the reputation of the speaker and anyone connected to them. Speech may be free but it comes with a price.

Recently, a doctor posted racist comments on Facebook about Michelle Obama. After insulting the First Lady, the anesthesiologist claimed that she’s not a racist, nevertheless, her disgusting comments went viral. The media contacted her employer, Denver Health, for comments. The hospital condemned her private remarks while acknowledging that she has the right to free speech. Later, the doctor voluntarily resigned after meeting with the hospital. With a few careless words, she lost a job that paid over $300,000 a year.

The Denver Post published an editorial about this situation, The High Cost of Free Speech, suggesting that perhaps we go too far in punishing people who say unacceptable things. Social media has a “chilling effect” on free speech because people are publicly shamed when they write or share something bad. Surely exercising free speech shouldn’t cost a person their livelihood?

The Post said that our right to free speech comes with a cost: people will say or do things that you find offensive, like making disgusting comments or burning the flag. The paper cautioned us to respond more calmly when we hear something offensive so that the right to free speech is not eroded.

I can understand the Post’s point of view. Public comments on Facebook can be very nasty. I have seen Facebook comments from people who condemn complete strangers – even wishing them physical harm. People make judgments about others without all of the facts (or even any facts). There is no due process, no benefit of the doubt, no room for second chances. There has also been too much public backlash, in my opinion, against people who protest in a way that others don’t approve, for example, kneeling during the national anthem or skipping school to protest the election. This public backlash does have a chilling effect on free speech.

I can also see why the hospital encouraged the doctor to resign after her comments were publicized. The hospital serves minorities. I saw comments on social media questioning whether minorities get the same level of care and respect from this doctor as white patients.

This is a cautionary tale for all of us. Sometimes we impulsively say something we shouldn’t and later regret it. On social media especially, it is so easy to share a post that many people probably don’t stop to think about the lasting effect. I have seen a few of my own friends share racists posts and I think less of them for it. I have also noticed that I am seeing far more posts from strangers than ever before – friends of my friends. If you don’t want your posts to be viewed by people you don’t know, you need to check your privacy settings. And if you wouldn’t want someone to take a snapshot of your comments or posts and share them publicly, then maybe you shouldn’t say it.

I am not in favor of public shaming but I do think there should be social repercussions for hateful speech. There should be backlash. We should not condone it. We should make it clear that racism, sexism, bullying and just plain nastiness are not socially acceptable, regardless of how much status and power the speaker has.

This year, millions of people rejected the idea that words matter. Political correctness, even common decency, was cast aside and replaced with careless insults, bullying, and lies. People were even encouraged to act violently against those who protested against the speaker. But just because a celebrity got away with using free speech to degrade and demean other people does not make it morally right or socially acceptable. The damage caused by his careless words is being spread across the country – in schools and businesses and homes.

“Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world…would do this, it would change the earth.”
William Faulkner

Free speech is a precious right. A wise person uses it carefully.

Joy Unsinkable

I am a stoic person, not showing a lot of emotion or excitement. I usually keep my emotions to myself. When I do openly express how I feel, I second guess myself or feel self-conscious. Should I have been that upset? Did I look silly when I got so excited? Inside, I experience joy and sorrow and everything in between, but normally maintain an even keel – not too happy, not too sad. When I feel those deeper emotions, something always brings me back to even – a state of contentment and acceptance. How is it that I can be in the depths of despair one week and back to normal the next?

A few weeks ago, I was so shell-shocked by the results of the presidential election that it felt like someone I love had died. I lost trust in my fellow-man, even in the people I should have so much in common with – fellow Christians. I mourned for those who have much to fear from the president-elect because of his intolerance – immigrants, Muslims, people of color. I lost something precious – hope in my country’s future. I lost confidence that the moral arc of the universe, though long, bends towards justice. It’s clearly bending the wrong way now.

I still mourn. My world is becoming meaner and more divided before my eyes. I still can’t bear to watch the yellow-haired braggart on television. Everything about him repulses me. I still can’t stomach political news. But I will guard my heart against bitterness. That means shutting out the ugliness that I can do nothing about and focusing on what I can do – act justly, love mercy, and see to it that no one misses out on the grace of God.

In my innermost being, I am still joyful. My joy in the Lord is unsinkable. No matter what happens, the Lord is my rock and refuge. He walks with me through hardship and adversity. He comforts me when I mourn. I remain in Jesus and his love remains in me, just has he promised. Jesus is still the light of the world. Those who follow him will never walk in darkness (John 8:12). No matter what happens, my Father’s glory and love will be magnified.

You make known to me the path of life;
    you will fill me with joy in your presence,
    with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

Psalm 16:11 (NIV)

We are  now in the season of joy, a time when people are more generous and kind. I sing Joy to the World and Tidings of Comfort and Joy. No matter who resides in the White House, God rules the world with truth and grace. Come Lord Jesus, come!


Now to the Lord sing praises,
All you within this place,
And with true love and brotherhood
Each other now embrace;
This holy tide of Christmas
All other doth deface.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy