“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 and mind.
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.
Love Your Enemies
reflections by troy cady