Love your enemy

“Love your enemy” is a major Christian commandment.  It appears in the same passage as the Golden Rule in Luke 6.

Love for Enemies

27“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

It is also found in Proberbs 25:

21If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. 22In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.

And in Matthew 5:43-48.

Gandhi has a similar opinion:

It is easy enough to be friendly to one’s friends. But to befriend the one who regards himself as your enemy is the quintessence of true religion. The other is mere business.

How is this supposed to work?  I suppose, when we respond to violence with violence and are mean to people who are mean to us, we only justify the violence of our enemies against us in their own eyes and escalate the violence.  But when we treat our enemies well, considering the reciprocity of human relations, we reverse the cycle.

But does it always work this way?  Sometimes, people hate us so much that they make it a purpose of their life to harm or destroy us.   Also, treating evil-doers well constitutes injustice.  This strategy may work on a personal level, but, certainly, not on the level of society or applied towards international aggressors.  It’s hard to ask a Jew to welcome a Nazi who killed his family in his home.  It’s impossible to ask a Christian to offer food and water to an ISIS fighter who raped his wife and daughter.  It makes no sense to insist on peaceful negotiations between Ukrainian government and pro-Russian rebels when the rebels keep shooting despite a unilateral cease fire declared by Ukrainian forces.  The recent events in the world – Ukraine, Iraq, Gaza – have convinced me that there are situations when the only option is to destroy the enemy.

Don’t get me wrong.  I still believe that “love your enemy” is a great commandment.  I admire people who can forgive crimes committed against them.  But I think that telling other people to do so is insensitive and hypocritical.

I’ve read an interesting post on Facebook from a Jew regarding the escalation of violence in Gaza strip:

How to behave in an argument with a person who is determined to prove that Israeli strikes in response to terrorist rocket launches are “disproportional”.
  1. During the argument, ask the opponent if he approves the Israeli response to the rocket strikes from Gaza.
  2. When he answers “no”, ask “why?”
  3. Wait until he starts mutterning nonsense such as: “This will lead to even more violence and victims among civilians which is horrible…”
  4. In the middle of this sentence punch him in the nose.
  5. When he tries to punch you back, stop and explain that this contradicts his worldview and will escalate the violence.
  6. Wait until your opponent agrees and promises not to retaliate.
  7. Kick him in the head.
  8. Repeat #5 through #7 until your opponent reconsiders his opinion.

I used to think like this hypothetical opponent.  But this thought experiment and the recent news changed my mind.  Russia using rhetoric that the conflict in eastern Ukraine needs to be resolved through peaceful negotiations while occupying Ukrainian territory, sending fighters and arms to support the “rebels” (most of whom are Russian citizens) and shelling Ukrainian territory from across the border is like someone preaching peaceful talks while kicking his opponent in the head.  I can wish my enemy well, but I also must stop him from kicking me in the head.

With all my respect to the New Testament, there is also Ecclesiastes.

1There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:

2a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

I know, this is a controversial topic.  It’s easy to say “stop the war” in general, but it’s a difficult topic with a person involved in a conflict.  I would welcome a discussion about it.