Despite our nation being in a perpetual state of war, we as individuals have seemingly few serious enemies. No American that I know of worries of marauders riding through on horseback into his neighborhood to pillage the garden in the backyard after finishing off the leftovers in the fridge (they’d be quite hungry after leaving my house!). Nor must we concern ourselves with rebel forces leveling our city on their way to Washington DC (though the South does occasionally threaten to “rise again”).
Enemies of the mind
Our deadly enemies are quite detached from our everyday lives. I would propose that most of our enemies, at least my own, reside in our heads as imaginary or are the thoughts with which we must battle every day. The former, imaginary enemies, can include those fantasies in which we picture ourselves quarreling in certain situations that make us upset; those times in which we’d like to show this or that person what we think if they ever said that certain thing that really irks us. I know I do that.
The demons of our thoughts include pride, suicidal temptations, addictions, depression, negative thought patterns, selfish ambitions, envy, deceit, etc. These two types of enemies we encounter every day. I believe we should become very familiar with these struggles, the demons of our mind, because they literally seek to destroy us. As the Orthodox Celts sing, “the devils that you’re safest with are those you know the best.” Identify your weaknesses, and confess them to someone who can pray with you through them.
With that said, let’s turn our focus to external enemies.
What kind of a God would say that?
In Luke 6 and Matthew 5, we are commanded to love our enemies. Jesus even goes as far as to say that God sends rain on the righteous and the wicked, and that’s he’s kind to the ungrateful. But why? What kind of God would require us to love those who do evil?
These commands seem rather arbitrary without a theosis-focus. It would seem as though God establishes these moral standards simply to set us up for failure.
With a theosis focus, which is desiring not just to be like God but to become one with Him and be completely transformed in mind, spirit, and body; with that sort of focus this command becomes more clear. We see that God requires us to love our enemies because He loves those who hate Him. He sends blessings on the wicked, he gives breath to the hateful, and as He hung upon the cross He spoke forgiveness over His abusers.
It is easy to think, “Sure, he can do that, he is God after all.” But He invites us inside to become one with Him. In Oneness, there is no room for baggage. He does not wish to load us down with difficult moral standards, but is beckoning us into the freedom and life of His beautiful Kingdom.
So what does that look like for political enemies such as Islamic extremists who want to destroy our lives and the lives of others? What about powerful political enemies who serve their own selfish purposes and crush those over whom they rule? What if someone plays the “Hitler card” and asks about loving enemies?
In short, I don’t know. I have a feeling we are doing many things wrong. Our fight against “terrorism” in the Middle East often exposes our country as the biggest terrorist when you look at the hundreds of thousands of civilians we have slaughtered.
But those kinds of arguments distract us from applying these principles in our own lives. The fact is we have people we know whom we do not like and who perhaps do not like us either. There are people who have used us, hurt us, or hurt someone we know. It is on these situations we must focus our love.
Reading the Bible with the Church
When reading the Bible on our own, it can be really easy to add exclusions or conditions to Jesus’ teachings on love for enemies. That is one of the reasons why the Orthodox Church teaches that we should read the Bible with the wisdom of the church fathers. The Bible was not written to us as individuals to decide what we want to make of it, but was written to the Church as a whole.
Many Church fathers have an honesty and rawness that cuts away at our excuses we attempt to layer on top of the teachings of Jesus. To them, our enemies are our most honest friends. They are the people who point out the flaws that we sometimes refuse to see in ourselves. In their eyes, we should value criticism as it destroys pride and vanity. Earlier this week, I posted a beautiful prayer written by an Orthodox bishop who suffered in Nazi concentration camps.
Again, I can imagine someone saying, “try telling that to a victim of rape” or someone who is living an abusive situation. My objective is not to empower violent or abusive people. Sins against the humanity of another are inexcusable. But, these types of arguments only serve to distract us from following the commands of Jesus because we can always think of some kind of excuse for why His words are simply not practical.
What I am attempting to learn for myself is to drop all excuses. I have plenty of them. Instead, I need to learn to love all. It is the way of theosis. It is the pathway to union with Christ.
Who/what are some of your internal and external enemies? How do you think we should treat our external enemies (aka the people we don’t like)?