Calling All Christians: Love Your EnemiesBy Josh Maurer on November 28, 2016
Editor's Note: We are excited to have one of our GRTS graduates, Josh Maurer, write a pastorally sensitive piece on our post-election world. It is our prayer that this post will begin to put language to our Christian call to "love our enemies" in a culture that is deeply divided along many fault lines. Our Christian identity—and thus call to love—transcends any social, economic or political affiliations and Josh gives us a poignant reminder of our call to "love our enemies" through this post!
Recently, many excellent articles have been written addressing the election and the many implications for us as Christians in this "brave new world." I am under no illusion that this brief post will be sufficiently nuanced to engage all the necessarily specific questions that must be asked and answered. Yet, I do believe it will be another helpful and challenging contribution to the discussion.
How should Christians living in this chaos we know as post-election reality—whether we individually boarded the Trump train, decided #imwithher, or chose an alternative route at the ballot—speak and act as those whom Jesus has named the "salt of the earth" and the "light of the world"? Many people, Christian and non-Christian alike, are elated with the election results. Many are devastated. Many have resolved to pray for president-elect Trump while others have protested. Some have even resorted to the very same violence and intolerance they once feared. What is clear in all of this? America is deeply divided. Thus has manifested itself in a disturbing array of mentalities and behaviors fueled by entrenched ideologies from folks on both sides of the proverbial political fence. The climate has bred more enemies, it seems, than allies. Now, as "strangers and exiles on the earth who desire a better country" (cf. Heb. 11:13-16) and as those who are "in the world but not of the world" (cf. Jn. 17:15-19) we are bound up in this turmoil, for good and ill (hopefully more for good). So again I ask, how should we speak and act as "salt" and "light"?
Wise contextual sense would have us look to the sermon on the mount (Matt. 5-7). For it is there we receive this high calling in the world. And surely these chapters are full of relevant words for the present situation. For example, who among us would not benefit from dwelling with the seventh beatitude: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God" (5:9)? Or, more popular but no less powerful, the golden rule: "Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets" (7:12)? These statements and more are necessary and altogether worthy of extended reflection as we learn how to speak and act as citizens of the kingdom of God in and for the sake of the world. Nevertheless, I want to focus on a particular command, which at once is so familiar and yet still so foreign—one that is both painfully severe and preciously sweet. I'm referring to the command to love our enemies.
It is worth quoting in full: "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 do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, 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" (5:44-48).
Even a surface reading reveals its severity. For we do not naturally love our enemies but hate them. In fact, the very idea of loving our enemies seems at best counter-intuitive and at worst suicidal. Test yourself. How have you responded to the election results? As one who voted for neither major party candidate I have noticed in myself a seed of resentment (hatred? what's the difference?) toward both camps—to those unashamedly happy and to those aggressively volatile. True, each of those reactions is like a bright flare ascending into the sky declaring an emergency. But does that justify my visceral response? No. And if I were a betting man, I would bet I'm not alone.
Even still, Jesus demands us to be hungry for righteousness and to love enemies. In other words, to work for true justice and love those perpetrating injustice against us. This is difficult, indeed paradoxical. These two aims often collide. For the enemies whom we are called to love are often the same ones who perpetuate genuine evil. So, how can we be hungry-for-justice people and at the same time love our enemies? It is precisely at this point where the severity of this word gives way to sweetness for those saturated in the gospel.
You see, Jesus is not asking us to do something he has not already done. Underneath the call to love our enemies rests God's act of love for his enemies—us! Paul makes it explicit in Rom. 5:10 that God reconciled us to himself by the death of his Son precisely "while we were enemies." The parallel with v.8 confirms that this reconciliation was rooted in love: "But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." The only hope we have of obeying Jesus on this score is to delight in the God who loves us. As the apostle John said, "We love because he first loved us" (1 Jn. 4:19). We are mirrors designed to reflect, among other things, the love of God.
Therefore, our task is not simply to love our political allies (the "good" or "just")—after all, what reward is in that?—but to love our political enemies (the "evil" and the "unjust"). Perhaps then, as a result, the world would understand why Jesus calls us the "salt of the earth" and the "light of the world."