“Love your enemy.” There are hardly three words we
could string together that would produce more inner dissonance than these. And,
yet: if we cannot learn to love our enemies, we will only continue to reap more
hatred, more division, more strife.
The expression “our world is falling apart” conveys
only a half-truth. If we are to be completely honest, we need to acknowledge it
has been falling apart for a long time now. For as long as we have made enemies
of one another…that is how long the world has been falling apart. That is since
the very dawn of humanity.
So: who is my enemy and how am I to love them?
Everyone has an enemy. They are the people we hate. That is how we know who our
enemy is. As someone who claims to follow Jesus, it is both shocking and
troubling to me that it is very easy for me to identify my enemies. How quickly
their names come to mind! How sad it is that I have risked so little to love
them, and how safe I feel preserving their status as “the enemy” in my heart
How am I to love such a person? How am I to love such
a group? How is “my group” to love “their group”? Within the answers to those
questions we find the source of a true and lasting hope. This is the difficult
work of loving one’s enemies.
At its core, what we are after is an end to Othering
the other. At its core, the work of loving one’s enemies involves laying aside
the mindset of “us vs. them”, the “home team” against “the visitors.”
How we speak of one another matters. Do my words
dignify or only serve to divide? Labeling does not help the situation.
An enemy is still a human. Do my words humanize? In my
mind, do I think of my enemy…as human? Is my heart able to see the humanity in
my enemy, even the enemy who dehumanizes another? If I answer someone’s
dehumanizing words and actions by dehumanizing them in return, what progress
have I made? I must come to see that I cannot take a stand for truth by
dehumanizing another, since truth is always a humanizing force. The commonality
of our very humanity…rests upon truth. Truth dignifies.
These questions make me so uncomfortable. Surely this
is the hardest thing to do…to love one’s enemy. And, yet: if we are to know
peace within and without, it is the one task that must be done.
To be sure, there is hope. This has been done before.
Enemies can become friends.
Surely this moment in history is a moment where we all
have plenty of opportunities to practice loving our enemies. We will never
perfect the art of it, but let us not give up rehearsing the new rhythms of it.
We can take a stand for truth and humanize the Other at the same time. It’s
hard, but we can do it.
We must do it. It is the only way out of our divisive
enmity. May it be so.
In a world overcome by violence, peace appears as a
disruption that at first feels strange, counter-intuitive, even foolish. This
is why true and lasting peace can only come with practice, countless rehearsals
of non-violence. Day after day after day, we rehearse this way of deeper courage,
longer endurance such that the very sign of today’s protest reflects the vision
we have for a better tomorrow.
Fortunately, the sign of the future peace for which we
long has already been shown to us by the peaceful One who has gone before and
is in our midst even now. Christ, the Prince of Peace, invites us to rehearse the
way of non-violence, to wrap ourselves in His very heart—for He Himself is The
Way and He Himself is our Peace. In Christ, we see that the open hand (more
than the clenched fist) disrupts the cycle of violence. Thus: as we work for
peace, we take our place by His side, willing to lay down our life, willing to
disrupt the cycle, fighting by refusing to fight on the world’s terms of
violence—fighting the fight on heaven’s terms, beating swords into
To win this “fight” God does not raise up an “army,”
per se. The people whom God raises up are not armed with the weapons of this
world. Indeed, God’s people are empty-handed, open-armed. In this way, God raises
up an alternative community which itself is to be a sign and foretaste of the
lasting peace that God has in mind. It
is the community of the Beloved. We
enter the fight with open hands, hearts bared, laying it all on the line for
the sake of love, even love for our enemy.
If we wish to disrupt the cycle of violence, let us
rehearse love for our enemy. To rehearse such a strange love, we will need to
wrap our lives in the One who has perfected the art of loving like that. As we
do so, we will soon discover that we ourselves are the enemy He has loved. And
we are joined by countless others who have been strengthened by the same love,
even our own enemies. This is the community of the Beloved. This changes everything.
*Sculpture: “Love” by Alexander Milov; photographed by
The strength of
gentleness lies in its capacity to open us up, to come face to face, to stop,
to slow down, to look and listen. Gentleness cannot be hurried. In gentleness
we are able to face our fears. Quietly we speak. We recover ourselves. It is
safe to be human again. We find that which we had lost in the violence—our better
selves. Gentleness invites us out of hiding and gives us both the wisdom and
the courage to stop fighting bullets with bullets. Gentleness teaches us to take
our stand not in fits of rage but in hope, praying and believing that day will
follow day. We trust to hope. And hope grows such that we make plans to walk
the way of peace for a lifetime, step by step. Our resolutions become more than
mere momentary reactions. Words emerge—healing and wise words—from a full and present
silence, a silence borne of gentleness that quiets the confusion, chaos, noise
and clamor within. Mark how gently life itself endures, as gentle as breath
*Photo by Georgia
de Lotz via Unsplash. Creative Commons License.