Lesson 13: How We Love Our Enemies

I’d like to continue citing Martin Luther King’s sermon, “Love Your Enemies,” because it describes forgiveness as an inherent characteristic of the Christian love narrative. Whenever I hear the most powerful man in the world claim to love everybody and in the next breath brag he can not think of anything he has done for which he would ask forgiveness, I think of Dr. King’s words, “He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.” I invite you to ponder how Dr. King relates love and forgiveness.

Let us be practical and ask the question. How do we love our enemies?

First, we must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. It is impossible even to begin the act of loving one’s enemies without the prior acceptance of the necessity, over and over again, of forgiving those who inflict evil and injury upon us. It is also necessary to realize that the forgiving act must always be initiated by the person who has been wronged, the victim of some great hurt, the recipient of some tortuous injustice, the absorber of some terrible act of oppression. The wrongdoer may request forgiveness. He may come to himself, and, like the prodigal son, move up some dusty road, his heart palpitating with the desire for forgiveness. But only the injured neighbor, the loving father back home, can really pour out the warm waters of forgiveness.

Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act. It means, rather, that the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship. Forgiveness is a catalyst creating the atmosphere necessary for a fresh start and a new beginning. It is the lifting of a burden or the canceling of a debt. The words “I will forgive you, but I’ll never forget what you’ve done” never explain the real nature of forgiveness. Certainly one can never forget, if that means erasing it totally from his mind. But when we forgive, we forget in the sense that the evil deed is no longer a mental block impeding a new relationship. Likewise, we can never say, “I will forgive you, but I won’t have anything further to do with you.” Forgiveness means reconciliation, a coming together again.
Without this, no man can love his enemies. The degree to which we are able to forgive determines the degree to which we are able to love our enemies.

Second, we must recognize that the evil deed of the enemy-neighbor, the thing that hurts, never quite expresses all that he is. An element of goodness may be found even in our worst enemy. Each of us has something of a schizophrenic personality, tragically divided against ourselves. A persistent civil war rages within all of our lives. Something within us causes us to lament with Ovid, the Latin poet, “I see and approve the better things, but follow worse,” or to agree with Plato that human personality is like a charioteer having two headstrong horses, each wanting to go in a different direction, or to repeat with the Apostle Paul, “The good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.”

This simply means that there is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies. When we look beneath the surface, beneath the impulsive evil deed, we see within our enemy-neighbor a measure of goodness and know that the viciousness and evilness of his acts are not quite representative of all that he is. We see him in a new light. We recognize that his hate grows out of fear, pride, ignorance, prejudice, and misunderstanding, but in spite of this, we know God’s image is ineffably etched in being. Then we love our enemies by realizing that they are not totally bad and that they are not beyond the reach of God’s redemptive love.

Third, we must not seek to defeat or humiliate the enemy but to win his friendship and understanding. At times we are able to humiliate our worst enemy. Inevitably, his weak moments come and we are able to thrust in his side the spear of defeat. But this we must not do. Every word and deed must contribute to an understanding with the enemy and release those vast reservoirs of goodwill which have been blocked by impenetrable walls of hate.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

4 Enlightened Replies

Trackback  •  Comments RSS

  1. Kerry Walters says:

    Thanks for this, Fritz!!

  2. Kerry Walters says:

    A wonderful message for Ash Wednesday. Thanks!

  3. LuAnn says:

    How do we apply this to those who oppress others, but not ourselves? Perhaps we don’t have anything to forgive when we aren’t the ones wronged; but we may are angry about their choices to hurt others, whatever their motivation is, particularly Christians who promote policies and practices that hurt or ignore the least of these Jesus talked of in Matthew 25.

    • Fritz Foltz says:

      Luann, I received a number of e-mails asking the same question. It is obviously a critical one in our time. Thoughtful followers of Jesus seem to assume they as individuals are called to forgive those who sin against them. However, other participants asked questions like how to explain to a child in Auschwitz, how to forgive the presidentt and politians for harming the vulnerable, how far to go when an offender persists in evil actions. Because of the response, I plan to use the lesson on February 28 to include your and their insights.

Post a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Top

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.

Close