Sunday, 7 February 2010

What do we wish upon our enemies? And what do we do when bad things happen to them?

Jesus is unequivocal "love your enemies".

I am not Jesus, and quite often and quite sinfully I hate my enemies. I suppose I take the rather elemental approach of the Psalms of imprecation. On the positive side I suppose if I have strong feelings it's better that I don't try to pretend they're not there ... that is a pretty lame excuse isn't it? How do we move, how do I move, from hatred to love of enemies? Acknowledging the strong feelings and trying to find their root is one step, but changing behaviour, changing feelings is quite another.
Years ago a person I had strong negative feelings about - perhaps not quite hatred but not so far off - had something terrible happen to them. That event brought me up sharp. Did I really think that this person was in some way evil and deserved to have horrible things happen to them? Rediscovering compassion for that person all those years ago, being able to pray for them helped transform my hatred into something more positive.
Since that time I have also realised that my feelings of hatred harm me, eat me up sometimes. So the call to love the enemy is also a call back into relationship not just with the other but also with oneself - myself - and I do suffer from self hatred too. I am my own hated enemy on many occasions.
I am a person with elemental and powerful feelings, but the call to love the enemy is about practical relationship building. Sometimes we are not strong enough to do that on our own. It is hard to listen to Christ's call and know how far I am from it. The Bible exhorts us time and again to see that every individual is equally loved by a loving God.

Sometimes we hate for personal reasons, sometimes we hate because we have a need to personifiy evil; sometimes we hate because systems and organisations aren't working properly, because integrity is not longer part of the processes we're involved in. This can happen in churches, schools, prisons, families and private companies ...

As a result of other reading - more about that in later posts - I've come across Philip Zimbardo's The Lucifer Effect, which charts how good people can take the path of evil. The preface to the book charts his involvement in part of the Abu Ghraib investigations. What are the situational forces at work that lead individuals to choose to torture, to bomb, to lie, to abuse power, to kill?

Every time I do not manage to overcome with love my hatred of an individual, I too am more of a fallen angel than a follower of Christ.

"Be not overcome with evil but overcome evil with good" Romans 12.21