Pondering with the enemy
Do you have enemies? Do you know who they are?
Are you absolutely certain?
Over the past several months I’ve been pondering Christ’s words:
“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you…”
It has confused me because, to my knowledge, I have no real enemies.
I mean, sure, there are plenty of people who disagree with me, undoubtedly people who don’t even like me. I’ve had my share of passing conflicts. I’ve encountered road-ragers, people who are just generally mad at the world. I occasionally get angry comments from things I write.
But people who are openly, actively, persistently, personally hostile toward me? People who fervently wish for my downfall? None that I’m aware of.
The word “enemy” is used no less than 210 times in the Bible. Why such a pervasive theme — when it seems to have no relevance in my life? Am I just blind to my enemies?
I’ve gained some insights from my pondering.
The first is that the fact that I have no identifiable enemies is not necessarily commendable.
Not having enemies is not a measure of one’s peacefulness, but rather a deficiency of impact. (Keep in mind that the greatest peacemakers who have ever walked the earth have made the most vicious enemies: Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Christ Himself.)
As Victor Hugo said,
“You have enemies? Why, it is the story of every man who has done a great deed or created a new idea. It is the cloud which thunders around everything that shines. Fame must have enemies, as light must have gnats.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt added,
“I ask you to judge me by the enemies I have made.”
Judged by that standard, I haven’t yet amounted to much.
It’s not that I’m advocating having a chip on your shoulder and picking fights, mind you. I’m simply saying that when one takes a stand on principle, conflict will always ensue. In fact, the more pure, honorable, and bold one’s stand, the more enemies are created, the fiercer the opposition.
No matter how peaceful we strive to be, make no mistake: we are constantly engaged in a war between good and evil, light and darkness, truth and deception, excellence and mediocrity.
Which brings me to my next insight: In this war, who is the enemy?
Who you define as your enemy determines how you fight.
Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, Matt Walsh, et al define the enemy as liberals. Hillary Clinton, Paul Krugman, Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews and company define the enemy as conservatives.
If all of them were to do some deep introspection and try to do more than get ratings and win elections, they’d find that the real enemy is a lot closer to home…
Jacques Lusseyran, the blind French activist who protested against the Nazis, discovered the real enemy in a Nazi prison camp. As he revealed in his deeply-moving, unforgettable, life-changing book, And There Was Light,
“When you are in prison…you are born into a hideous world in which nothing holds together, where the only remaining law is human. And all of a sudden you realize that man is the greatest of all dangers in the universe.”
Later he added,
“…Nazism was not a historical disaster confined to a single time and a single place…Nazism was a germ to be found everywhere, a sickness endemic to the human race.”
In other words, our greatest enemy is no one but ourselves. The Buddha put it this way:
“It is a man’s own mind, not his enemy or foe, that lures him to evil ways.”
Our ultimate fight is not against liberals, conservatives, big government, or terrorists. It is against the dark side of human nature — our ego, vices, and temptations — which we share with our worst enemies.
This is precisely why Christ counsels us to love and pray for our enemies. As we do so, we discover that they really aren’t different than us — that in fact we carry within us the same things we criticize them for.
As Benjamin Franklin wisely said,
“Love your Enemies, for they tell you your Faults.”
Praying for our enemies is not about them. It’s a powerful mechanism for generating self-honesty and overcoming self-deception. We cannot pray for an enemy without being softened, opened to reflecting on what we have done to contribute to conflict.
This is also why Paul counsels us to “Recompense no man evil for evil.
Fighting with our enemies, returning anger with anger, is a misguided, self-deceiving battle. It keeps us focused on the faults of others and ignorant of our own.
We would have a lot less conflict in the world if people started fighting the right enemy. True peacemakers are those who identify the right enemy — the one inside themselves. They are those who stop fighting with other people and instead, start working on improving themselves.
As Robert Browning said,
“When a man’s fight begins with himself, he is worth something.”
Fascinatingly, Christ’s counsel to love and pray for our enemies — rather than fighting against them — is especially applicable when we identify the right enemy within ourselves.
Just as we should not return anger with anger with other people, neither should we fight against our personal weaknesses with sheer willpower. Rather, we should pray for them and surrender them to God.
Lao Tzu’s quote comes to mind:
“Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.”
Hatred, which develops from endemic self-deception, is weak like rock. Love, which develops through persistent prayer, is strong like water. Our hardened habits and rocky weaknesses gradually disappear as we love them into submission.
Speaking of love, one final insight: Praying for our enemies is a profoundly effective way for generating compassion. As we pray for them, we realize that the reasons why they’re angry at us have nothing to do with us. Their anger towards us is rooted in their personal wounds.
With this realization comes compassion, and compassion is the gateway to forgiveness and ultimately love. This is how Christ was able to say on the cross about those who nailed him there, “Father, forgive them…”
Love truly is the most powerful force in the universe — and the only way to conquer all our enemies.