In 2005, tragedy struck the tiny Amish town of Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. A horribly tormented man, grieving and angry, locked himself in a tiny schoolhouse where he lined up ten young girls between the ages of six and twelve, shooting them before turning the gun on himself. Half of the girls died.
The town was in anguish.
What would follow, however, astonished the watching world. In the midst of their pain, the leadership and families of the town came together to comfort the family of the shooter. They attended the funeral of the gunman and mourned with his mother. They established a victim’s fund and listed the shooter’s family among its recipients. In short, they showed the world what it means to truly love your enemy.
As you read this, some of you may be nodding your heads in remembrance. The ripples of such superhuman love still echo, and the tragedy of Nickel Mines is no longer remembered as a place of horror, but as ground zero for the resulting display of God’s love. Movies have been made. Documentaries have been filmed. Books have been written. Nickel Mines, after all, is not the standard display of human — even Christian — behavior.
But what if it was?
The truth is that the Christian life calls us to become something more than what our instinctual yearnings drive us toward. The sanctifying presence of the Holy Spirit is constantly looking to mold us, to replace bitterness with forgiveness, malice with blessing, and anger with love. This does not mean we put ourselves into places of abuse and willingly endure, but it does mean that we open our eyes to a bigger picture and seek to view the world — and its brokenness — through a lens of grace.
As with most of the more challenging aspects of the Christian life, it sounds great in theory. The real question, however, is “how?”
3 Secrets To Loving Your Enemy
1. Pray For Them. In Matthew 5:44, as Jesus calls us all to love our enemies, he immediately marries the intangible concept of enemy-love to the very tangible action of prayer. There is a purpose to this. As we begin to pray for the blessing of others, our mind and heart are forced to change tracks. Rather than dwelling on hurt and pain, rather than lingering on the wounds we have taken and allowing them to fester with the infections of bitterness and malice, we redirect our intent towards the good. This does not minimize the reality of any pain we may have endured, but it robs it of its power over us. It is no surprise that on the cross, Jesus prayed for his crucifiers. What may surprise us, however, is that the term translated “prayed” and used to describe Jesus’ action rests in the imperfect form in the Greek. In other words, Jesus did not just say a quick prayer: he prayed over and over again, almost chant-like, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Prayer is powerful. Prayer changes us.
2. Do Good Unto Them. In Luke 6:27, Jesus connects loving our enemies with the outward expression of becoming agents of blessing. The example given to us is a savior who came for us even in the midst of our sin. It is of a God who pours sunlight and rain on the just and the unjust alike. It is a grace that is freely given, without the need to be earned, because those who were created in God’s image are people of value. Doing good unto others who may not deserve it is the physical embodiment of what love is. Love is not a reward, it is an expression of divine grace and the embodiment of the highest Christian virtue. When we choose to actively live out love for others, especially when we don’t feel it, we participate with the inner working of the Holy Spirit which transforms us into people of love. The choice to actively love without presumption is a choice to embrace our own personal freedom and slip free from the manacles of despair.
3. Change Your Perspective. As Paul the Apostle penned most of his letters to the churches, he did so as a prisoner of the Roman Empire. He scrawled on parchment from behind iron bars, watched over by centurions and prison guards, with perhaps a shaft of light to remind him of the freedom he has lost. Yet, in Ephesians 3:1, Paul rejoices — not in being a prisoner of the Gentiles, but being a prisoner for the Gentiles. In what proves to be great irony, Paul saw that his captors were in fact an audience captive to him. Those charged with guarding him could not leave, and were instead forced to remain a persistent audience as he proclaimed the truth of the Gospel. Where many of us might see stone walls and iron bars, Paul saw opportunity. The hidden reality is that, in all situations, God is at work. When we learn to look past the circumstances which accost us, we can discover the handiwork of God, and the mission we are invited to participate in.
This is the beauty of the call to love our enemies. As radically opposed as it is to our natural inclinations, entering into the call of Jesus is a decision to enter into a path of personal freedom, and a life driven by the mission of God.
May we all learn to love our enemies.
T E Hanna writes on numerous spiritural topics on his blog, TEHanna.com.