Monday, July 27, 2015

The great Christian challenge to love even our enemies

There is a wide range of teachings and life dictums that each disciple of Christ is called to embrace and emulate, even if one finds great difficulty in doing so.  The call to be generous, charitable, forgiving, and loving are just some that easily come to mind. 

While many of these are found to be similar teachings in other religions, there are some which are particularly Christian in character, and can pose a great challenge to even the most seasoned and long-practicing Christian disciple.  One particularly exigent dictate of Jesus is that we love our enemies.

There is within each of us, almost as if it is in-built in our human existence, a tendency and predilection for retaliation and an almost antithesis to be charitable when we face some form of disagreement, opposition or strident opinion from interlocutors.  The stronger one feels about an issue, the greater the disquiet one will feel welling up in the pit of one’s very being when there is disagreement, conflict of opinions or worse, when one is ridiculed and scoffed at.

When this happens, tensions inevitably rise within us, and our defense mechanisms take over if we are running on ‘auto’.  Scientists who study human social behaviour have noted that in each of us, there is a ‘flight or fight’ response that each of us chooses in the face of attacks and threats, be these physical or just intellectual.  Perhaps it is something that we have inherited from our pre-evolved ancient ancestors that we still have this thing called the ‘reptilian brain’ that wants to attack back, fight to gain more ground, or to be taken seriously and respected.  However we may want to explain it, when we are faced with such ‘threats’ in our lives, it becomes a great strain to live out this teaching of Jesus, where we are called to love those who are deemed our ‘enemies’.  Our natural animal instinct is to have that last word in an argument, to put down our opponents, and to be defensive.

How did St Paul manage to bless when he was ridiculed, endure in the face of persecution, and respond with gentleness when slandered?  We just have to read 1 Cor. 4:12-13 to see this. 

Maybe the key has something to do with the ability to live outside of our petty selves.  Charity makes it clear that there is a need to enter into the world of the other, and love at its most pure and unsullied calls us to love for the sake of the other.  It is when we hold this foremost in our minds that we will be able to step out of ourselves to enter into the world of our dissenters that some headway can be made toward loving our enemies.

It becomes almost unnatural to want to step into the shoes and lives of the enemy when confronted by violence and negativity.  Yet, this is the counter-intuitive directive that Jesus requests of his followers.  Natural instinct does not want us to bless these people, and neither is there an in-born tendency to treat them with gentility.  It takes superhuman power to do this, and to do this with genuine intent. 

Indeed, it is superhuman power that we are given when we rely on the power of Christ and his Holy Spirit to live this way.  Relying purely on our own goodness and kindness, we know that our storehouse of such attributes have limited supply. 

I must admit that I struggle with this as much as the next person.  When my best intentions are doubted, when the genuineness of my actions are questioned, or worse, when I am falsely accused and critiqued with unfair bias, that reptilian brain of mine seems to go on auto-mode.  But one thing I have noticed is that when I am aware of being in a state of grace that I am able to attune myself to the person of Christ and turn myself over to him in love and rely on his mercies.  This becomes a far greater difficult thing to do when the state of grace is lost. 

This reptilian brain does not die just because one is living in Christ.  Would that it does.  But what can begin to happen is that we start to live with enlarged hearts that allow us to enter into the hearts of others, even those of our enemies.  It is when our hearts beat in tandem with theirs, no longer in frenetic syncopation but with calm and synchronicity, that we can begin to truly love our enemies because in them we will begin to see our own selves. 

Could this be what enabled Jesus to forgive not just his executioners on Calvary’s cross, but all sinners through all time?  His compassionate heart was so enlarged, so expanded that he saw goodness in all of broken humanity.    


  1. Until I really really love God, really really love Jesus, no amount of knowledge of what Christ will do, does or did, will I be able to love and do what He taught.

    At our breakfast conversation this morning, it was about the love of God for us. How much He loves us, what He did/do to show us His love. And in the course of our discussion, we realised how little is taught us how to love God (in return).


  2. Reading this - “You cannot comprehend the deepest love God has for you until you realize that he has that same love for the person or people you most despise” gave me the same queer sensation I had when I came upon Wisdom 18:15 some time ago while attending a course on Wisdom Literature. I was never much enamoured by this Book as many chapters just went on to embellish biblical text (or so I thought) and could be tedious.

    However, I promised myself that I would persevere and was on the chapter re-telling the death of the Egyptian firstborn and how Israel was saved. The verse was ambling long with this innocuous lines – “ For when peaceful stillness encompassed everything and the night in its swift course was half spent,” (when out of the blue, these words jumped out at me)……”Your all powerful WORD from heaven’s royal throne leapt into the doomed land” I remembered thinking – ‘that’s IT ! That’s how LOVE leapt down to us and captured hearts’ (probably taken out of context) …..…..……and yet I still cannot comprehend why it had to be this way – neither can I ever fathom Love’s depth and compassion, to love not only one man (yours truly) but all men – saints and sinners alike. It was a humbling experience.

    God bless you, Fr.