What Does it Mean to Love Our Enemies?

This week, America once again faced tragedy.

On Thursday, 13 people were killed at Fort Hood when a soldier, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, allegedly opened fire at the military base in protest, according to reports, to an upcoming deployment to Afghanistan. Hasan, who is Islamic, had been outspoken, according to media reports, about his desire not to serve in combat in the War on Terrorism.

Some of the debate, this week, has been on whether or not this was an act of home-grown terrorism or an unthinkable criminal act. Regardless of what one calls Thursday’s shooting, a horrible, tragic, and unthinkable event occurred. We mourn the loss of those who died and pray for the families affected by this event.

But, there appears to be a greater question than whether one calls this shooting an act of terrorism or a criminal case. There seems to be a larger discussion, for Christians, on what our response should be towards Hasan. That question is what is our response to Hasan. How are we to react towards him? How are we to think about him?

These are not easy questions to ask. They challenge us to think, outside of our initial emotional reactions, and think deeply about the moral, spiritual, and ethical responsibilities that we have as Christians. Our responsibility is an ethic that is not focused on the world’s standards, but of a standard that comes from a loving Father, who gave us His Son, out of unconditional love, so that we may be in relationship with Him, renewed and freed from the power of sin.

So what does it mean to love our enemies?

The first place we could turn to is Matthew 5:43-48. Here, in the Sermon on the Mount, Christ Jesus is offering an explanation of what it means to love, especially our neighbor. Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you get only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even the pagans do that? (Matthew 5:43-47, NIV)

It seems here that Christ is calling us to an ethic that call us to do what is humanly impossible on our own; that is by our own merits. When someone harms us, our first reaction is to get angry. We don’t want anything to do with that person and we would rather walk away. Forgiving, those who do us harm, is difficult enough as it is, asking us to love, well, that’s next to impossible on our own. How does God expect us to love our enemies?

We have a model and that is God, himself. In God’s love for humanity, he sent his Son to overcome the grip of sin and to serve as the sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin. It is the ultimate gesture of love overcoming the enemy that was sin. To use the common phrase, God loved the sinner (humanity) and hated the sin.

That is what we are called to do, even in difficult situations like that of Thursday’s shooting. We are called to continue to love the murder as we love ourselves. We are to pray for Hasan and his family, as we are to pray for the victims and their families. Love knows no discrimination. “God does not discriminatory, his disciples are called upon likewise not to discriminate in choosing the objects of their love,” wrote John Howard Yoder in The Politics of Jesus.

This love is one that calls us to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9). We are called, as Tod Lindberg writes in The Political Teachings of Jesus, to substitute the hatred and violence of Thursday’s actions and place in its stead the love of Christ Jesus. This love is one where we are concerned for the person, hopeful that they find repentance and the love and transforming power of a relationship with Christ Jesus, and hope that their lives may be filled with grace. This is not an easy love, but as Christ Jesus reminds us what love, that is truly rewarding, is ever easy.

Lindberg writes, “Upon their mutual substitution of love for hate, they will benefit from something akin to neighborly. The separate communities in which they find themselves will become joined by something.”

That something is love and a relationship.

This love does not mean we ignore the things that took place. We do not ignore Thursday’s violence. The violence was incomprehensible and horrific. Loving our enemy does not mean we ignore what took place. C.S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity, “Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery. We ought to hate them. Not one word of what we have said about them needs to be unsaid. But it does want us to hate them in the same way in which we hate things in ourselves; being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping, if it is anyway possible, that somehow, sometime, somewhere, he can be cured and made human again.”

Right now, it may be hard to love Hasan. The emotions are still real. But if we truly want to live out what it means to love, then we must be willing to love even someone like a Hasan and hope that he may be transformed and find forgiveness by the love of God.

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