|credit: Mike Fritcher. cropped. link on bottom of post
“Ye have heard that it has been said, ‘Thou shall love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy.’ But I say unto you, Love your enemies…”
Martin Luther King, Jr. Jesus. Gandhi. These three moral saints come to mind immediately. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a real religious person. He said “Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” He said “I must not ignore the wounded man on life’s Jericho Road, because he is a part of me and I am a part of him. His agony diminishes me, and his salvation enlarges me.” He said we are in the same “garment of destiny.” He preached the most beautiful form of love found in all the world’s religions—loving your enemy. Seeing yourself in the enemy. Taking love beyond its natural limit. Taking love to its spiritual conclusion. He lived it, and died living it.
The gulf between you and your enemies is always a lack of understanding.
When Martin Luther King Jr. looked into the eyes of a Klan member, rather than seeing an evil person, he saw a lack of understanding. “No matter what he does,” he preached, “you see God’s image there.” Beneath the fear and hatred, there are unanswered questions. Why do you hate them? Do they have reason to hate you? Why can’t you talk to them? Are they educated? Perhaps they could understand? At some point in our lives, we were all ignorant. Most often, an enemy is a person who hurt you emotionally once or twice, and your emotions refuse to let them back in. You would rather forget than forgive. That’s fine, but never think this is correct. Don’t be fooled into saying “I will forgive, but I will never forget.” That’s nonsense. I’ve heard Christians say it! Never think that shoving a person to the dark corners of your mind is Godly or Christian. It’s cowardly. This is fake religion. MLK reminds us: “Now let me hasten to say that Jesus was very serious when he gave this command; he wasn’t playing…This is a basic philosophy of all that we hear coming from the lips of our Master” (sermon, “Loving Your Enemies,” quoted from stanford.edu). Tolstoy and Gandhi agree. In the end, you are hurting yourself. Unless you forgive.
Previously, I mentioned a gay man that I got in a fight with. He was perhaps the only enemy I’ve ever had in my life. He tortured me emotionally, lied to me, did things to hurt me, tried to drug me at least once. All the while I naively believed him, tried to be his friend, and suffered. All said and done, I did use the word “evil” to describe his diabolical mindset to get the things he wanted by taking advantage of my good nature. But it was all a horrible misunderstanding in the end, a very tragic miscommunication. He did not hate me. He loved me. He thought that I loved him the way that he loved me. But I didn’t. It did not take long for me to stop using the word “evil” to describe him, for me to forgive him in my heart. I think about the lessons I learned, and wish him the best . If I saw him I would feel no negative emotions. Although I’m not sure we could be friends, the account has been settled.
When a person is suffering and it’s nobody’s fault, we help them. If it’s our fault, we feel guilty and help them. If we think it’s their fault, we will not help them (e.g. the poor). Worse, we might hurt them. The problem with this, as all the moral saints have attested to, is that we are many times factually wrong. Lepers have a disease. Poor people come from a lineage of poor people. So the least we could do is not hurt them. As my favorite bumper sticker explains, “When Jesus said ‘love your enemies,’ I’m pretty sure he meant don’t kill them”. The most we could do is to understand and help. The least we could do is to stop hurting. When a person is suffering and we know someone else did it, we want to vindictively hurt that person. That’s what testosterone is for. We completely forget the person suffering. We don’t realize that most bullies are bullied at home. Again, our ignorance fuels the circle of suffering. That’s what MLK meant when he said that our hearts cannot be totally right if our head is totally wrong.
What really makes me sad is that we treat our loved ones as enemies, all the time. Think about all the times you degraded your husband with words, all the times you lied to your wife, all the times you took your family for granted, all the times you gossiped about your friends, all the times you took it out on your kids. What’s that ridiculous saying? “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” There is a sad truth to it. When we stop actively loving people, it just happens, it degrades: they become expendable. One day you wake up next to your husband, and you look at him in disgust. And yet, most people would die for a family, even a bad one.
If a person can love their enemies without God or some sort of Divinity, I am happy for them. As for me, I cannot. The very highest level of love—to love your enemies—is nothing short of perfection, which to me is what I mean when I say “God.” That is why Paul said God is love, and why Gandhi considered nonviolence to be God-force.
The command to love your enemies is an extension of the command to love your neighbors. Jesus, knowing that people would misunderstand what he meant by “neighbor” (hint: anyone who needs help), just cuts to the chase. Jesus extends love to “cosmic proportions” (MLK). Jesus says it plain and simple: love your enemies, do good to those who hurt you, bless those who curse you. No interpretation needed. Many Christians don’t talk about it. Preachers, if they talk about it, have a sarcastic undertone: let’s all just try our best, ok guys? Thanks.
Jesus isn’t commanding us to feel emotional for our enemies or romantically attracted to them. That might be psychologically impossible. Love is larger than just emotion. The philosopher Immanual Kant, who was a Christian that gave himself some respect, says it best:
“So the saying ‘you ought to love your neighbor as yourself’ does not mean that you ought immediately to love him and [afterwords] by means of this love do good to him. It means, rather, do good to your fellow human beings, and your beneficience will produce love of them in you” (Met of Morals, 162).
This applies just as well to enemies. God doesn’t ask us for the emotion of love but the mindset of love, the principle of compassion, the action of love. The emotion, naturally, comes later (or not at all…no big deal). God asks us to control what we can: do good deeds, think of your neighbor as yourself. Respect them in your mind. The rest follows.