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Jan21ThuWhat does it mean to love those who persecute you? January 21, 2016 by Colonel Bob Ward and Major Amy Reardon
In this series, Colonel Bob Ward, who retired in 2013 as the territorial commander in Pakistan, and Major Amy Reardon, corps officer at Seattle Temple in Washington, U.S.A., discuss issues of the day. This is their last column in the series, and we are grateful for their contributions.
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I recently overheard a debate between my eight-year-old son and my six-year-old daughter. My son was convinced that Jesus hates the devil (and, apparently, my son is going to beat up the devil, for Jesus' sake). My daughter argued that Jesus loves the devil, because he loves everyone.
In Matthew 5:44, Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” It's not a trick. We aren't trying to make our enemies feel guilty by treating them kindly. We are to genuinely love and sincerely pray for them. So, I had to side with my daughter. I suppose that Jesus does love the devil, his great enemy.
Transfer that, then, to people who seem to be working on the devil's behalf. It's hard enough to love the people in our lives who hurt, betray or defame us, but what about those who commit evil on such a large scale that it impacts the world? According to Jesus, we are to love them, too.
I felt anger and dismay well up inside me when I learned of the terrorist attacks in Paris. Everyone in each scenario was utterly, hopelessly vulnerable. It could have been you or me sitting in one of those restaurants. It could have been someone we love attending that concert. People lost their lives over the twisted ideology of terrorists who were willing to kill for their beliefs. And Jesus says to love and pray for them!
We could almost convince ourselves that we love them, because it is hard to measure love when the object of love is so very far away. All we have to do is declare that we love them, and no one can prove otherwise. But as for prayer, that's harder—because it is a real, measurable act. Either we pray for them, or we don't. And honestly, I suspect that many of us don't. Perhaps the very idea is repugnant to some Christians.
What are your thoughts on this subject?
You have just destroyed one of my favorite choruses: “The devil and me we don't agree/Glory Hallelujah/I hate him and he hates me/Glory Hallelujah!” However, I share your revulsion at the atrocities we are witnessing in the name of religion. Gandhi was profoundly influenced by that verse in the Book of Matthew, which formed his doctrine of non-violent civil disobedience. In Romans, the Apostle Paul elaborates on how to treat our enemies, reminding us that it is written, “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink” (Proverbs 25:21). But the next verse is enigmatic: “In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you” (Proverbs 25:22). The reversal of the normal order of affairs creates a cognitive dissonance with the potential to change a hostile relationship.
It's hard enough to love the people in our lives who hurt, betray or defame us, but what about those who commit evil on such a large scale that it impacts the world?
Let it never be said I disagree with the words of the Master. However, I would like to make two points in response to your assertion above.
The first has to do with loving (or hating) people we do not know personally. We may say we “love” people who live in distant lands, and may even donate to organizations who help feed, clothe, house or educate them. We may even say we love ISIS or the Taliban because God loves them. Having served in Africa, South Asia and North America, we have heard people express their love for people (especially children) from other lands. However, when these children and their families come to live and work in this country or in their neighbourhood, the love and tolerance quickly disappear.
Christian love cannot be based on whether the new immigrants are documented or not. Both Old and New Testaments command us to love our neighbours as ourselves. The real test of our love is what we demonstrate in practical ways to those with whom we live, work and play. So I question whether it is possible to love people we only see in the news, with whom we have no personal interaction—such as ISIS.
Second, there is a handy refuge used by earnest Christians who assert they “love the sinner, but hate the sin.” Personally, I think this combination of two separate thoughts is dishonest, both in theology and practice. We do not find any words of Jesus that give us an excuse to hate anybody or anything. The only time Jesus suggested we could hate is the strange reference in Luke 14:26: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple” (italics mine).
A parallel passage clarifies: “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37). In a similar sense, we love one master and hate the other. But it's not really hate; we just subordinate our loyalty and affection. Jesus was saying we may only hate that which holds us back from the work of the kingdom.
If we are called to love ISIS, we should be equally ready to love the refugees fleeing the war and provide a safe haven. But that is an issue for another day.
In the end, we must ask ourselves—just as Christians asked themselves during the two World Wars—would we prefer for our enemies to be destroyed, or can we be at peace with each other? What do we pray for ISIS? What should we, as a church, advise our decision-makers? How does love impact the answers?
You really made me think when you said it might not be possible to love people with whom we have no personal interaction. At first, your comment took me aback, but then I realized you weren't saying that we harbour ill feelings toward them. We neither love nor don't love, because we don't have opportunity to do either. You've probably heard the phrase, “love is a verb.” I think there is wisdom in that. Love isn't how you feel; it's how you act. If that's a fair statement, we can't really love those we never encounter.
Your questions are very helpful, I think, in sorting out whether or not we have a Christlike response to others. You ask, which would we prefer: peace, or the destruction of our enemies? Let me pause on that question for a moment. Soon, we'll be electing a new president here in the United States. I've often heard some of my fellow countrymen—even Christians— express a desire for the president to fail when their favourite candidate hasn't made it into office. Not only is this illogical (if the president fails, we all suffer), it is cruel and un-Christlike. We should pray for wisdom for our leaders. Peace for all is far better than the demise of those we don't like. Peace at home, peace for the world.
As for praying for ISIS—what do we say? What do we want? Perhaps we should pray again for wisdom for ISIS members, so that those who kill, hurt and destroy would turn and value life and our collective humanity. I also think it is important to remember that these men and women are loved by God. He formed each one, knitting them together in their mother's womb. He longs for relationship with each of them. Though their deeds are heinous, I believe God still yearns to draw them to him, if only they would allow it.
I disagree with what you've said about hating the sin but loving the sinner. Sin repels God; that's why we need a Saviour. Since it is so offensive to God, I have no problem saying I hate it. I'm not sure what would be wrong about saying I hate murder, lies, infidelity, etc. These things destroy peace and happiness and ruin lives.
At the time of writing, we, too, were in the midst of a federal election, with our own destructive tendencies. What to pray for? Perhaps one response, taking a lesson from past conflict, is to pray for voices that can speak to both sides, people who have their respect, who start to humanize “the enemy.” Or that voices of reason within both sides are heard, leading to respectful discussion and a workable co-existence. This is what I pray for regarding ISIS, or, for that matter, the parties in the North American elections.
In terms of your comment about loving the sinner but hating the sin, I believe that Christians need to begin to model God's unconditional love. In the end, Christ tells us that we are in no position to point fingers at another's shortcomings when we fail to acknowledge and correct our own. I hope, though, that the devil feels just a little uncomfortable with the thought that your daughter is praying for him.