Monday, March 16, 2009

love, enemies...and evil

The problem with a message about the boundary-breaking love-of-God is that it really demands an acknowledgement of evil. And that’s where things get tricky, especially when God says to love your enemies (Luke 6:35).

Some years back I was having lunch with a man who wasn’t completely clear what he believed about Christianity—there was a mix of new age ideas and pointed questions regarding Jesus Christ. He seemed to be uncomfortable with any authoritarian view of right and wrong; rather, determine for yourself your own moral code. He appeared to have difficulty with simple social protocol, sometimes coming to weekend celebrations dressed in sexually provocative clothes—very tight and extremely short shorts. In the course of our conversation, he disclosed what appeared to me to be an awfully painful memory of his childhood, but he shrugged it off as, “That’s life…I’ve moved on.” He told me that growing up, he couldn’t remember a day his dad did not beat him. Worse, his dad was an overtly religious man who read his Bible regularly and immersed himself in church activities. He vividly recalled being taken to the garage with his brother and beaten with a belt until his dad was literally exhausted.

Let me cash a reality-check here. Every one of us has an unspoken struggle with God. Some point where we won’t forgive, some place that we won’t leave, some wound we won’t let God near, some surrender we don’t want to make, some spiritual discipline we don’t want to do, some sin we don’t want to turn away from. If we bury it deep enough, perhaps we won’t have to deal with it. And so we numb ourselves with superficialities, false intimacies, pharmaceuticals or religious activities. This man’s unspoken struggle with God was obvious. As with many of us, it’s usually not an intellectual difficulty we have with God but a moral one. In this case: How can I be expected to honor my parents? Don’t tell me to love my enemy until you know what it’s like to have an Adolph Hitler for your father. Is God crazy?

And that’s a great question: Is God crazy?

Talking about loving your enemy requires talking about evil. Evil can best be described as total and complete self-absorption. Christians call it pride. Psychiatrists may term it malignant narcissism. While God says, “You must surrender your will to me”, evil says “Surrender to no one. It’s better to be your own boss in your own private hell than to submit to anything else.” The perversity of this is obvious: evil invalidates its own philosophy because it demands its way and its own rights, requiring someone to submit to it. Bow to me. When we think life exists to serve us, we have slipped into a dark world.

Scripture implies that we are all in that place to some degree. And yet we are commanded to love one another, even our enemies.

In his classic book, The People of the Lie, author and psychiatrist Scott Peck tells a chilling story of evil as he counseled a young fifteen year-old boy named Bobby who was suffering from depression, particularly since Christmas. His grades in school had plummeted sharply and in a totally uncharacteristic act, Bobby stole a car. The parents seemed very concerned—solid, church-going, blue-collar workers. Less than a year earlier his older brother had committed suicide by shooting himself. While counseling this quiet, depressed boy, Peck was surprised to find out that for Christmas his parents had oddly given Bobby a gun only six months after their oldest son committed suicide. And not just any gun, but the very same one his brother had used to kill himself, wrapped up again in a box. It was a disturbing act of evil, and they seemed totally nonchalant about it. Peck’s problem was not so much what he could do for the boy, but rather the deep need Bobby’s parents had for psychological help. This boy was sleeping with the enemy.

I’m certainly not saying that loving your enemies is easy, simple or quick. My personal experience has been one of process. I’m flabbergasted at how Stephen collapses to his knees and cries out, “Lord, don’t hold this against them!” as religious zealots in Acts 7 are stoning him to death. I’ve got a long way to go.

Keep in mind that there is a purpose to loving your enemies. The primary purpose is in understanding that kindness is destructive to evil. It is exactly what Jesus did when He was incarnated into this planet. First John 3:8 states, “…The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work”. He came healing, forgiving, loving and correcting. We are to do nothing less if we identify ourselves with Jesus Christ. The goal is creating a context where repentance is possible. Darkness hates light. Evil attempts to slink into dark corners, but the light that comes from the kindness of God leads to repentance, as Paul says in Romans 2:4.

There is a secondary purpose as well: we are healed and transformed dramatically in the process of loving our enemies—we allow our souls to become more Spirit-filled, more like the Father who sends the rain of refreshment on good and bad alike. We don’t “practice random acts of kindness and senseless beauty”; this is guerilla warfare, strategic divine love aimed at darkened hearts. Jesus was intensely purposeful and strategic in His command to love your enemy.

One last thing.

Often when I talk about this, I’ll have newer believers ask me if we’re supposed to love the enemy of our soul: Satan, as in, “Are we supposed to pray for him if he’s our enemy?” God doesn’t offer us that grace. For whatever reason, fallen angels are not offered repentance. What’s more, we are clearly told his ending: he is destroyed in a fiery finish. The personification of evil is done away with in a sweeping vision of a new heaven and a new earth. The Kingdom comes.

Many years ago, my sister-in-law was supernaturally healed of a terrifying, debilitating and extreme bi-polar condition. She had been in and out of psych wards, delusionally paranoid, after years of zombie-inducing drugs and steroids. I cannot describe the pain she went through and the crushing effect it had on her family. She knew full well the oppressive captivity of the enemy. Years later in a conversation she said, “When Jesus throws him into the pit, are we allowed to cheer?”

She wasn’t being sarcastic or facetious; that was the liberated joy of someone freed from a hellish dark prison, someone who has experienced precious soul-liberty. We’ve all seen old World War II newsreels of celebrations when the Allies and French resistance liberated Paris months after D-Day. Now imagine that in your soul…or picture the man of Gadarenes.

Vengeance belongs to God. But I’m pretty sure we’ll cheer at the ultimate victory over evil.


  1. Thank you Dave- that was beautifully said. I have a question and I'm a bit confused with this topic of healing.... Being the legalist I am (I know, it gets me nowhere), I've sought every avenue one can seek to find emotional and spiritual freedom from a painful childhood and subsequent messed-up early adulthood. Turned to the Church for deliverance ministry more than once, growth and healing stuff, sharing stuff, prayer and more prayer, some counseling....have been pretty diligent. I believe I've worked through forgiving parents, God, and the hardest of all- myself. Now, I seek to walk in forgiveness, stay in the Word and in prayer, stay connected to God's people, reach out to get out of my stuff- etc.
    Yet an oppressive cloud seems to follow me like the plague. The fear and mistrust of authority figures hangs on like glue. I take 1 step forward and 2 back. It's really tiring and I know I'm not walking in the freedom Christ died to give me. I hear others testimonies of freedom and can't help but wonder why this path is taking so painfully long. Maybe I expect too much, but when I read the account of Jesus and the demon-possessed man of the Genasenes, I think that nothing is too much to ask.....
    Anyway, I appreciate what you shared about your sister-in-law. I can only imagine she lived through her own private hell on earth. Her story does give me just a glimmer of hope.
    Forgive my ramblings on a rather dark day.....

  2. WOWWY WOW, Dave...Once again, you have managed to speak a difficult truth with love and grace. Without making the reader feel that they suck and will never get it right...I want to use your very last line for a bumper sticker or something! May I??


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  4. Yes, WOW indeed - excellent post!

    Just as the time when Jesus said, "Love your neighbor" and someone asked, "Who is my neighbor?" - I tend to wonder, 'Who is my enemy?' when I hear "Love your enemies."

    The only enemy that comes to my mind is The Enemy, so thanks for talking about that, Dave.

    So it seems to me that the "enemies" I am to love would be anyone who does not love me. What Jesus is saying is: you already love those who love you; love everyone else as well.

    Luke 6:32 "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them."


  5. Reset messages have been great. I would like to see forgiveness and loving your neighbor defined more clearly. I've heard true Christ followers say that you haven't truly forgiven someone until you can look at them and not remember their sin against you. I don't think that that is what God means. I think of people who have been sexually or physically abused, for example. Aren't the red flags that come up if they are in contact with the abuser self-protection? Would you leave your child alone with the funny uncle? I guess I just always want messages about loving your enemies, forgiving, and turning the other cheek to be clarified as to how that looks. So many people have suffered enough at the hands of an abuser and should not take on guilt because they still react them.

  6. So question for you even though I don't know you... Is this kind of leading into if you love your enemy you can forgive your enemy? Is that where forgiveness comes from?