While waiting in the airport today, I caught a news story of a woman beheaded by a man in Oklahoma and the reporter emphasized the man who did this as a muslim.
Stories like this stir such deep fear. Fear of the other seems to be the filter for so many of today’s leading headlines, but as Christians we know that “there is no fear in love” and “perfect love casts out fear”. But too often, instead of love freeing our fears, our fear impedes our love. Instead of seeing the world through the lens of Christ’s perfect love, we hide behind our fear and not only fail to love, but hate.
What would it look like to have Christ’s love to dwell so richly in us that fear is driven out and we are therefore able to love our brother, our sister, our neighbor, even our enemy…
Shortly after I saw that news story today, I read these words by Howard Thurman on loving your enemy written in 1956 (Thurman’s work was very influential in shaping the faith of many civil rights leaders). His words raised so many questions for me as I tried to wrap my mind around this kind of love for an enemy. I wonder what Christian love would look like if fear was no longer the lens in which we saw our Muslim neighbor and instead we saw them through the lens of Christ love:
Here are some of the most powerful paragraphs that stood out to me (emphasis mine):
“We remind ourselves that by definition the enemy is one who is ethically out of bounds for us. Let us bring this statement into focus and think about it. Why is it that when a nation goes to war with us, one of the first things that happens is a redefining of the status, character, private life, public life, history, culture, of the people that we are fighting? We redefine them out of the human race. The German become the Huns. The Japanese become those hideous creatures with buck teeth and horrible eyes surrounded by huge glasses. By redefinition we read them out of the human family. Once that is done, it is open season. We can do anything to them without violating the sensitive, ethical awareness that goes with our own sense of self-respect…..
Jesus, however, approaches life from the point of view of God. The serious problem for him had to be: Is the Roman a child of God? Is my enemy God’s child? If he is, I must work upon myself until I am willing to bring him back into the family. Does God love him? It doesn’t help me any to say, I am not God. That would be convenient but irrelevant. If God loves him, that binds me. Can it be that God does not know how terrible he is? No, God knows him as well as he knows himself and much better than I know him. It must be true, then, that there is something in every man that remains intact, inviolate, regardless of what he does. I wonder! Is this true? Is there an integrity of the person, so intrinsic in its value and significance that no deed, however evil, can ultimately undermine this given thing. If a man is of infinite worth in the sight of God, whether he is a saint or a sinner, whether he is a good man or a bad man, evil or not, if that is true, then I am never relieved of my responsibility for trying to make contact with this worthy thing in him. I must love him because God causes the sun to shine upon him as well as upon me. ….
What as a human being, can I do about all the pain that I have when armies run over my land, destroy my family, desecrate what is precious to me? What shall I do with that? How can I handle it? I don’t know the whole answer. I must understand that life provides its own restraint; that the relentless logic of the moral order, grounded in the structure of existence, will see to it that every man, every man must sometime sit down and look into the eyes of his evil deed. No man escapes. Life is its own restraint and when I attempt to become the avenger, I am merely crying out my agony in the nighttime. No man can truly take vengeance upon another man. Only God in His intimate involvement in the very heart of life of all of His children can bring to pass the relentless logic of the moral law. It is not whistling in the dark when Jesus says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven [with whom vengeance rests].”
“Vengeance is mine,” says the Book. God is not only the God of Religion, but He is also the God of Life. When I love my enemy, I come closest to the perfection which is God. When I do this, I resist the temptation to act as a member of the human race with special privileges. Love your enemy. Love your enemy. Love our enemy, and so fulfill the Will of God, in you.” (The Growing Edge, ch. 3)