Thoughts on Loving your enemies - part three
Jesus teaches those of us who follow him to love our enemies and actively seek their good even when they are doing the opposite to us.
In the previous two posts we looked at two critical issues:
In this post I want to look at emotions.
- We need to form the intention to become the sort of person who automatically loves their enemies (it is very hard to start doing it in the middle of a war!)
- We need to learn that whatever else is going on, we are perfectly safe in God's Kingdom and nothing can separate us from God's love. That knowledge begins to free us from the need for a fight or flight response to attack.
It is false to think that someone who loves their enemies must have had an emotion bypass. When we are in conflict with someone, emotions are a normal part of it and they were for Jesus as well. The difference is the sort of emotions. It is common that when we are confronted by an enemy that we get angry. Anger is a gut level emotion that helps motivate action but most anger has some element of wanting to do harm to the other party - to beat them and to win the fight. It usually has additional features like:
These then result in actions like slandering the other person, rejecting them, and attacking them sometimes even physically.
- rage (which feeds back into anger magnifying it)
- contempt (where we look down on the other sometimes as subhuman) and
- malice (desire that something bad will to happen to them).
In this situation it is hard to bless those who persecute you, pray for them and do them good!
To become people who more routinely love our enemies we need to ask God to help us connect the gut level emotion with compassion. In short we need to ask God to help turn our angerrrrrrrr into anguish. Anger is not the only emotion that generates action, love and compassion also generates action and can do so in a sustained and lifegiving way.
We can see this anguish (as opposed to anger) in operation in the life of Jesus as he goes to Jerusalem with the full knowledge of the rejection, betrayal, false accusations, injustice, torture and death that awaited him. In Luke 19:41-44 - Jesus weeps over Jerusalem. He knows that their coming rejection of Him will mean terrible judgment on Jerusalem in the future (it came to pass with the destruction of the city in 70AD). This gives us another clue. When people are doing wrong towards us, we need to remember that sin leads to death, and that it bad both for them and for us for them to go on sinning. This can in turn nurture our anguish and compassion.
We also see Jesus in anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:39-46). Not only is he confronting the religious and political rulers, he is being betrayed by Judas and he knows the rest of the disciples are about to abandon him. Rather than destructive anger, he is full of sorrow and anguish. Instructively he takes that to his Heavenly Father in intense prayer and is strengthened. We then see Jesus go through his arrest, trial and crucifixion full of compassion and love
So to love our enemies we don't need an emotional bypass - but we do need an emotional transformation. Pray and ask God to turn your angerrrr into anguish.
David Wanstall, 24/06/2010