I have long suspected that most Christians who say they want to love their enemies really only want to love some of their enemies. For most Christians, I think, there is a line where loving your enemy stops feeling like a command worth listening to. For students at BC, I think that line is at loving Donald Trump, or loving members of ISIS. I understand that those are two extremely different examples that don’t belong in the same group, but just for the sake of relating to a broader political, spectrum I will talk about both.
This month I tested this theory a little bit on various friends, and most of the time when I said something to the effect of “we are commanded to love Trump” or “we are commanded to love members of ISIS” the reaction was negative, even stunned at first. Many people tried to find a loophole to that statement, and even my first reaction upon realizing this was that I wanted a way out, something that would allow me to continue feeling hate rather than love.
I’m not saying that I am perfect in loving Donald Trump--he ticks me off just as much as the next liberal 20-year-old woman--but I am saying that I feel convicted that I should at least try to love him. Furthermore, I will admit that when I found out that the recent “mother of all bombs” was successful in killing dozens of ISIS militants, and little to no civilians, my first reaction was that maybe it would actually help eliminate the group, even if it meant killing their leaders. After all the terror attacks throughout the world attributed to ISIS in the past few years, didn’t someone deserve to pay?
However, in Luke 6, Jesus says:
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them... But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
For me, this has long been one of the most challenging passages in all of scripture, when taken at face value. Why should I have to be kind to the wicked and love my enemy? Because Jesus says so.
Loving your enemy certainly does not mean liking them or approving of their actions, or even affirming their personality traits. Rather, it means respecting them and wanting the best for them because they possess human nature. Wanting the best for someone can mean desiring that they repent from their wrongdoing and that they change their beliefs and their actions. However, it certainly cannot mean wishing suffering upon them, or in the case of war, it cannot mean wishing that they are killed.
Loving your enemy, properly understood, means there is nobody you are allowed to go on hating for your entire life, no matter what they have done to you. But most of us, I think, have had the experience of being so hurt by someone we do not know how to forgive them, or if we ever can. To this, Jesus answers: pray. Earlier in Luke 6, Jesus says “bless those who curse you, and pray for those who abuse you.” I’ve often heard it said that it is impossible to go on hating someone if you are persistent in praying for them, and in my own life I have experienced the power of this reality, even when it took years. Jesus does not call us to pray for our enemies because he wants to hear our prayers, rather he does it because he knows it is the path to love--a love that God desires to see between his children, and a love that sets the victim free from the burden of hatred. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. talked about this in a sermon on loving your enemies, saying:
I am certain that Jesus understood the difficulty inherent in the act of loving one’s enemy. He never joined the ranks of those who talk glibly about the easiness of the moral life. He realized that every genuine expression of love grows out of a consistent and total surrender to God. So when Jesus said “Love your enemy,” he was not unmindful of its stringent qualities. Yet he meant every word of it.
If King were alive today, I’m fairly certain he would also say to love Donald Trump, and to love ISIS and to love all the other people that I--as a liberal young woman--see as causing evil in the world. And he would certainly not say that because he has an affinity for those people, or because it is the logical response; he would say that because Jesus commands it.
In this Easter season, as the world continues down a path of hatred and division, let us not forget that some of the last words Jesus spoke on the cross were an act of love towards those who hated and abused him. As he hung dying, Jesus prayed for his enemy, saying “Father forgive them, for they know not what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).