What to Do with Enemies and Evil People

Think about the word prayer. Prayer is the giant step of taking into your heart, the center of your life, your appeal to God for the well-being and healing of another person’s life. It is not a sentimental action but an act of will and an obedience to God, knowing that God seeks the well-being and salvation of each person. After all, each person, no matter how misguided or damaged, is nonetheless a bearer of the image of God. If it pains you to imagine the intentional destruction of an icon, how much more distress should we feel when an human being is harmed or killed?

I’m talking now about the Gospel according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – not the Gospel according to Hollywood. The latter provides us with a never-ending parade of stories about evil people killed by good people. The basic story tempts us to prefer heroism to sanctity, or to confuse the two. A basic element of the Gospel According to Hollywood is that the evil people are so evil that there is no real solution short of hastening their death.

Confronted by such pure evil, what else can one do? But the teaching of Christ is not to kill enemies but to overcome enmity.  It’s like the transformation of water into wine that Christ performed at the wedding feast in Cana. We are commanded to convert our enmity into love, and it starts with prayer.”

(Jim Forest, “The Healing of Enmity,In Communion Fall 2006, p. 13)

Samaritans Good and Bad

Luke’s inclusion of several narratives about Samaritans demonstrates also his interconnection with peace and justice, as God’s gospel way in Jesus Christ to overcome enmity and evil. The lawyer by seeking to justify himself draws forth Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. In the face of God’s love commands, the lawyer seeks self-justification. In contrast, Jesus’ parable shows love compassionately aiding not only an unknown neighbor, but a known enemy – and the hands of love are those of a Samaritan! The narrative shifts from the question, “who is the neighbor whom I am commanded to love?” to another, “am I a loving neighbor even to the enemy?”

To be such a neighbor ensures one of eternal life, and it does not test with evil intent the Teacher of truth and life. The Good Samaritan story climaxes Luke’s first segment in his Journey Narrative, which is thus framed by the Samaritan theme, for in 9:54 the disciples wanted to rain fire down upon a Samaritan village because of its rejection of the journeying prophet Jesus (cf. 2 Kgs. 1:10, 12). But Jesus rebuked them (9:55), thus expelling their evil desire.

(Willard M. Swartley, Covenant of Peace, pp. 143-144)

By Order of the King: Love Your Enemies

Jesus said:  “And as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. “  (Luke 6:31-36)

St. John Chrysostom writes:

If the Emperor had laid down a law that all those who were enemies should be reconciled to one another, or have their heads cut off, should we not everyone make haste to a reconciliation with his neighbor? Yes! Truly, I think so! What excuse then have we, in not ascribing the same honor to the Lord that we should do to those who are our fellow-servants? For this reason we are commanded to say, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Mt. 6:12). What can be more mild, what more merciful, than this precept! He has made you a judge of the pardon of your own offences! If you forgive few things, He forgives you few! If you forgive many things, He forgives you many! If you pardon from the heart, and sincerely, God in like manner also pardons you!

(Preparation for Great Lent, p. 8)

Christ commands us to love one another and even to love our enemies.  While some Christians thunder about God’s  impending judgment of sin and sinners based on Old Testament law, rarely do they mention how those who disobey Christ’s direct commandments might be judged.  If we live godly sexual lives but refuse to love neighbors and enemies or refuse to forgive those who offend us, will we be judged by God as sinners or worse than sinners?   Do we imagine that Jesus Christ takes His own commandments less seriously than those of the Torah?  It seems rather that Christ assumes all of the 613 laws of the Torah can be summarized in a couple of teachings:

So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.   (Matthew 7:12)

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.”   Matthew 22:37-40)

Christians of all sorts tend to pick and chose which of the commandments of the Torah they are required to follow or  face God’s judgment.  But Christians do not teach it is OK to disobey or ignore the commandments of Christ Himself.  So how can Christians justify focusing on Old Testamental laws about sexual morality while overlooking Christ’s direct commandments about loving others?  We don’t get to pick and choose on what basis God will judge us, we can, however, determine how God will judge us by our own treatment of others.

St John Chrysostom in the above quote sees Christ’s prayer that God forgive us in the same way we forgive others (or that God treat us as we treat others) as being pretty straightforward and merciful.  For in this, Christ says you are in charge of your own destiny on judgment day, because as you now treat others, you are telling God this is how you want to be treated by God on judgment day.  You are telling God by your own behavior (how you treat others) how you want God to judge you!  The more forgiving you are, the more God forgives you.

Something for all of us Christian to think about.

One other thought came to my mind.  I remember reading many years ago about Genghis Khan and a theological “wrestling match” that he arranged.  Though some of the details of this have been lost in history and the results of the debate are no longer  known, apparently Genghis, who loved watching wrestling matches, had representatives of the Christian, Buddhist and Islamic faiths engage in a debate to see if any could best the rest.  One rule that he laid down was that they could only speak in positive terms about their own faith.  If the debaters spoke negatively about the other faiths, the penalty would be death.

Just imagine in our times if politicians and political parties at election time were only allowed to speak positively about what they would do but could not use negative advertising against their opponents.   This would be a form of loving one’s enemies, and should be practiced by Christian politicians.  Tell  us what you are going to do and your vision, but never tell us what you fear your opponent will do.  Inspire us with your good vision, don’t play to our worst fears to get our votes.   I think this would improve every campaign and would certainly add a Christian dimension for those who claimed to be Christian.  This type of thinking might also rid the airwaves of quite a number of talk show hosts.

Dealing with Your Enemies  

4870909879_9023a782e8

For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews; to those under the law I became as one under the law—though not being myself under the law—that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law—not being without law toward God but under the law of Christ—that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.   (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)

4870911585_6e6f6edf97

St. John Chrysostom comments:

You, therefore, when you have your enemy in your power, do not make it your concern how to avenge yourself and after subjecting him to countless outrages get rid of him, but how to look after him, how to bring him to mildness; do not stop short of doing and saying everything until by gentleness you overcome his ferocity. Nothing, after all, is more efficacious than mildness; someone suggested as much in the words, “A soft tongue will break bones:” what could be tougher than bones, and yet should anyone be as tough and unbending as that, the one employing mildness will easily prevail. And again, “A submissive answer turns away wrath.” Hence it is clear that you have more say than your enemy in his being upset and his being reconciled: it is up to us, not to the wrathful, both to snuff out their resentment and to kindle the flame to greater heat.

14810945945_8fb6e12549_n

The previous authority suggested as much by a simple example saying, Just as you ignite the flame by blowing on a spark, but extinguish it by spitting on it, and you have the say in each case (his words are “Both come out of your mouth”), so too with hostility towards your neighbor: if you give vent to inflated and foolish words, you kindle his fire, you ignite the coals, but if peaceable and moderate words, you extinguish his rage completely before the fire takes on. So do  not say, I suffered this and this, I was told this and this: you have the say in it all; as with extinguishing and enkindling the fire, so with inflaming or repressing his resentment, it is likewise up to you.

(Old Testament Homilies, Vol 3,  p. 53-54)   

4797148005_d3e9523745_n

Do Unto Others

Many people are familiar with the teaching of Jesus Christ, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  It is often referred to as “The Golden Rule” and can be found even in non-Christian texts that list principles by which to live or ethical rules.  And while the Golden Rule can be understood in and of itself [it is a statement which makes sense when it stands alone], it has a greater context in which it is given to us.  That context helps us realize the unexpected, even radical, intent of the message.   We can read the Golden Rule in its place in Luke 6:27-36 (given here from the RSV):

“But I say to you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.

To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from him who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to every one who begs from you; and of him who takes away your goods do not ask them again.

And as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”

The Golden Rule turns out to be one of Christ’s commandments to His followers.  It’s not the Golden Ideal or the Golden Guideline, but issued as a commandment to be obeyed.  And in its context we see Christ’s Golden Rule is neatly sandwiched between another of Christ’s commandments:  Love your enemies, which Jesus repeats before and after the Golden Rule.   Jesus fleshes out what loving your enemy looks like – no retaliation, no vengeance, no revenge, not even any schadenfreude.  It involves prayer, good deeds, charitable giving and mercy.  How would you hope any enemy who had you, or someone you loved, in his/her power – at his/her mercy – would treat you or your loved ones?  This is how we should treat everyone at all times.  We hope that even an enemy would treat us with human dignity, with respect, fairly, humanely.  Christ tells us to do better than that, for He commands us to love the enemy.

Christ’s teaching in Luke 6:27-36 is very straight forward, and yet rarely do those who claim to be staunch biblical literalists use this text as their starting point for defending the inerrancy of Scripture or as the basis for defending a literal reading of the Bible.  And perhaps instead of finding biblical texts against homosexuality to use against others, Christians should start with applying Luke 6:27-33 to themselves, literally and inerrantly as Christ commanded us to do.

Christ’s commandment to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” also occurs in the context of the world.  Several religious traditions have similar teachings as I saw on a poster once:

Buddhism:  Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.

Judaism:  What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow human.

Islam:  No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.

Baha’i: Blessed is he who prefers his brother before himself.

If we take the Golden Rule out of its Gospel context, it appears to be nice aphorism, which many philosophers could embrace.   But in its context – sandwiched between the repeated commandment of Christ to “love your enemies” – we realize how radical these words of Christ are.  Christ is not saying to treat well those who treat you well or from whom you can expect goodness in return or who have already been good to you.  Christ is commanding us not to react to others at all, but to always treat others (even- no, stronger – especially strangers and enemies!) with and in love.  This isn’t just nice advice for how to get along with friends or to influence other people.  It is how to behave to be His disciple and to stay on the path to the Kingdom of God.

Struggling to Love One’s Enemies

“Everyday experience shows that even people who in their inner depths accept Christ’s commandment to love one’s enemies do not put it into practice. Why? First of all, because without grace we cannot love our enemies. But if, realizing that this love was naturally beyond them, they asked God to help them with His grace they would certainly receive this gift.

Unfortunately, it is the opposite that prevails. Not only unbelievers but people who call themselves Christians are afraid of acting toward their enemies according to Christ’s commandment. They think that to do so would only be of advantage to the other side, seeing the enemy refracted through the distorting prism of hatred as having nothing good in him, that he would take advantage of their ‘indulgence’ and respond to their love either by crucifying or shamelessly crushing and subjugating them, thus letting evil, as generally personified by this enemy, triumph.

The idea that Christianity is ‘wishy-washy’ is profoundly mistaken. The saints possess a force powerful enough to sway people, influence the masses, but theirs is the reverse method – they make themselves servants of their brethren, and thus win for themselves a love in its essence imperishable. By following this course they gain a victory that will obtain ‘world without end’, whereas a victory won through violence never lasts and by its nature is more to the shame than to the glory of mankind.”   

(St. Silouan the Athonite, pp. 224-225)

Charity: Imitate God

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  (Matthew 5:43-48)

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  (Romans 12:17-21

maximus“Christ also taught us to give to all who ask of us: ‘Give to everyone who begs from you; and of him who takes away your goods do not ask them again’ (Luke 6:30). Note that no mention is made concerning the recipient’s worthiness. Much like the Old Testament passages quoted previously, these words have no qualifications or moral criteria attached to them. Christ tells to give, when asked. St. Maximus the Confessor offers a similar teaching: He who gives alms in imitation of God does not discriminate between the wicked and the virtuous, the just and unjust, when providing for men’s bodily needs. He gives equally to all according to their need, even though he prefers the virtuous man to the bad man because of the probity of his intention.” (David Beck, For They Shall See God, p 91)

 

 

The Gratitude We Owe Our Enemies

Jesus embraced by Judas
Jesus embraced by Judas

The Lord Jesus taught those who would listen: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from him who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to every one who begs from you; and of him who takes away your goods do not ask them again. And as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:27-36; see all Matthew 5:43-48)

“while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (Romans 5:10)

Among the most difficult sayings of Christ are His words specifically directed to how we should treat our enemies.  Some have tried to take His Gospel commandments regarding enemies literally, others have tried to interpret them more “pragmatically” to make them either more palatable or doable.   S0me have wrestled with them trying to understand what the words could possibly mean.  Others have treated them as a mystery that represent an “other-worldly” ideal but not practical in the real world.

Of course in life there can be many different kinds of enemies, not all of them make us think of a military or lethal response.   When nations are enemies that might involve armies.  But one can have political enemies and fight on the level of words.  On a personal level we may consider someone an enemy without ever feeling threatened by them or without our trying to harm them.   Even within families or Christian parishes people can become enemies one of another over issues great and small.   On this level enemies might even figure out some way to get along by simply using avoidance.  In the modern world we have also recognized the existence of frenemies, which is another level of the enemy phenomenon.  Christ made no distinctions in His teachings on enemies.  His words stand as commandments on how to treat any enemies.  St Basil the Great says:

“An enemy is by definition one who obstructs, ensnares and injures others. He is therefore a sinner. We ought to love his soul by correcting him and doing everything possible to bring him to conversion. We ought to love his body too by coming to his aid with the necessities of life. That love for our enemies is possible and has been shown to us by the Lord himself.  He revealed the Father’s love and his own by making himself ‘obedient unto death’, [Phil. 2:8] as the Apostle says, not for his friends’ sake so much as for his enemies. ‘God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.’ [Rom. 5:8] And God exhorts us to do the same. ‘Be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us.’ [Eph. 5:1-2] God would not ask this of us as a right and proper thing to do, if it were not possible.  On the other hand, is it not perhaps true than an enemy can be as much help to us as a friend can? Enemies earn for us the beatitude of which the Lord speaks when he says: ‘Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kind of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.’ [Matt. 5:11-12]” (in Drinking from the Hidden Fountain: A Patristic Breviary, pp 232-233)

f

The last comments by St Basil bring to mind A Prayer for One’s Enemies, St. Nikolai Velimirovich’s prayer for those who hate and oppress us.  Sometimes enemies can inspire in us a desire to change and to be more Christ like.

A Prayer for One’s Enemies

In 1941, with the Nazi German occupation of Yugoslavia, Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich was arrested and imprisoned in the infamous Dachau Prison Camp in Germany. He spent two years in Dachau, and later in life wrote the PRAYER FOR ENEMIES whose English translation is below.  His Christian understanding of “enemies” is profoundly based in the Gospel teachings and commands of Jesus Christ.

Bless my enemies, O LORD. Even may I bless them and not curse them. Enemies have driven me into your embrace more than friends have. Friends have bound me to earth, enemies have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world. Enemies have made me a stranger in worldly realms and an extraneous inhabitant of the world. Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an unhunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by enemies, found the safest sanctuary, having secured myself beneath your tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul.

Bless my enemies, O LORD. Even may I bless them and not curse them. They, rather than I, have confessed my sins before the world. They have punished me, whenever I have hesitated to punish myself. They have tormented me, whenever I have tried to flee torments. They have scolded me, whenever I have flattered myself. They have spat upon me, whenever I have filled myself with arrogance.

Bless my enemies, O LORD. Even may I bless them and not curse them. Whenever I have made myself wise, they have called me foolish. Whenever I have made myself mighty, they have mocked me as though I were small. Whenever I have wanted to lead people, they have shoved me into the background. Whenever I have rushed to enrich myself, they have prevented me with an iron hand. Whenever I thought that I would sleep peacefully, they have wakened me from sleep. Whenever I have tried to build a home for a long and tranquil life, they have demolished it and driven me out. Truly, enemies have cut me loose from the world and have stretched out my hands to the hem of your garment.

Bless my enemies, O LORD. Even may I bless them and not curse them. Bless them and multiply them; multiply them and make them even more bitterly against me: so that my fleeing to you may have no return; so that all hope in men may be scattered like cobwebs; so that absolute serenity may begin to reign in my soul; so that my heart may become the grave of my two evil twins: arrogance and anger; so that I might amass all my treasure in heaven; so that I may for once be freed from self-deception, which has entangled me in the dreadful web of illusory life. Enemies have taught me to know what hardly anyone knows, that a person has no enemies in the world except himself. One hates his enemies only when he fails to realize that they are not enemies, but cruel friends. It is truly difficult for me to say who has done me more good and who has done me more evil in the world: friends or enemies.

Therefore bless, O LORD, both my friends and my enemies. A slave curses enemies, for he does not understand. But a son blesses them, for he understands. For a son knows that his enemies cannot touch his life. Therefore he freely steps among them and prays to God for them.

Bless my enemies, O LORD. Even may I bless them and not curse them.  Amen. 

(St. Nikolai Velimirovic ,  Prayer Book – In Accordance with the Tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church, Kindle 518-41)

Patience

“True patience consists in bearing calmly the evils others do to us, and in not being consumed by resentment against those who inflict them. Those who only appear to bear the evils done by their neighbors, who suffer them in silence while they are looking for an opportunity for revenge, are not practicing patience, but only making a show of it. Paul writes that love is patient and kind. It is patient in bearing the evils done by others, and it is kind in even loving those it bears with. Jesus himself tells us: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who persecute and calumniate you. Virtue in the sight of others is to bear with those who oppose us, but virtue in God’s sight is to love them. This is the only sacrifice acceptable to God. But often we appear to be patient only because we are unable to repay the evils we suffer from others. As I have said, those who don’t pay back evil only because they can’t are not patient. We are not looking to have patience on the surface, but in the heart.” (Gregory the Great – d. 604AD, Be Friends of God, pgs. 50-51)