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.

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11 thoughts on “Love your enemy

  1. I am a pacifist, but I realise trying to persuade others to hold a similar view is a futile task. It isn’t going to happen. All anyone can do is try to remove the causes for war.
    In the case of the current Israeli attack on Gaza in response to a few rocket attacks, I believe the response is out of all proportion to the threat. The majority of the casualties are innocent civilians. It’s creating a generation that will be even more radicalised than they are now. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for someone who has seen his entire family wiped out, including women and children, to be fired with absolute hatred towards the killers.
    I honestly don’t know what the solution is, but I’m convinced the current “solution” isn’t it.

    • Thanks for your comment. I briefly checked you blog and I was interested to know what you would say on this topic. I am not following the situation in Gaza closely, but I am closely following the situation in Ukraine. I believe, there are similarities between the two situations. Russians call Ukrainians “fascists” and their operation to clean Ukrainian land from anti-government heavily armed militia a “punitive operation” against its own population. Ukrainian government calls it “anti terrorist operation”. But, factually, it’s a war. It’s not a civil war. The leaders of the militia and most of its fighters are Russian citizens. They are not Ukrainians. The fighters in eastern Ukraine as well as Hamas fighters in Gaza open fire from civilian quarters. Their positions are often located on the roofs of residential houses, schools, and hospitals. Civilians die. It is very sad to see the pictures of dead bodies of women and children. I’m sure, they die from the fire on both sides. But I also believe that the alternatives to kicking this scum out of the country are not acceptable. Allowing an unrecognized “republic” in this region is to turn this industrial area into a safe haven of crime and terrorism. The Boeing crash is a vivid example of what to expect from these people. I just hope that people who lost loved ones in this war could let go of anger an hatred. But I feel no empathy towards the mercenaries and those who send them. They also have mothers, perhaps, children. Too bad. They shouldn’t had picked up the arms and gone to a foreign country to kill. They must get out or die. The choice is theirs.

      I’m not sure how similar is this situation to Gaza, though. But after following the news from Ukraine for several months now, I sympathize more with Israel than with those who fire rockets from residential areas or with those who elected these people to rule the land.

      • I’m not sure how much say the residents had in selecting the powers that administer Gaza. But that is irrelevant anyway. I can understand their frustration. Imagine being in the most densely populated place on the planet, blockaded for years where only the most essential items are allowed in, where 80% of the population rely on humanitarian aid to survive, and who are mostly there because they were forced from their homes when the state of Israel was formed.

        Those circumstances are bound to cause some people to seek violent means to ease their suffering. If you add the excessive response of the Israeli military to mix, you will end up with an entire population with an absolute hatred of Israel, and by association all Jews and any that support Israel.

        Well over a thousand Palestinians, almost all civilians, have been killed, and the number is still climbing. Schools, hospitals, residential areas, and even children’s playgrounds seem to have been targeted. Electric power had been rationed to three hours per day, but since the bombing of a power plant is likely to be down to an hour per day. Tell me how the targets I have just described will deter a small band of terrorists from continuing their campaign? What it will do is is have lines of angry young men (and women) queuing to join their ranks.

        The Israelis are punishing an entire population for the crimes of a few. That’s a very effective way of ensuring a backlash of equal or greater proportion in my view. That backlash may not be immediate, it may be generations away, but it will happen unless an alternative solution is found. Excessive violence will not solve the problem.

          • Yes, I believe it’s much more complicated. Booth sides believe right is on their side, and both have been victim and transgressor. But the Israelis have all the firepower and have lost far less than the Palestinians.

            The West rightly condemned Syria for the bombardment of civilians, but where is the condemnation when Israel does exactly the same thing?

          • Hypocrisy of those condemnations is appalling. Putin rightfully condemns the West for the kind of interventions in foreign countries as he himself conducts in Ukraine. Putin’s stance is usually “If they can do it, why can’t we” instead of “it’s wrong, stop it”. So, yes, these condemnations are very selective and depend on who is the transgressor.

  2. Your example is worthlessly idiotic, Israel has essentially created an apartheid state, not to mention their illegal settlements. It’s so interesting that the Palestinians in your example seem to be provoked for no reason at all! Context is too difficult, eh?

  3. One of the requirements for forgiveness is surely a willingness to confess to one’s crimes and resolve not to repeat them? Isn’t this what happens in Catholic confession? So although Jesus preached that we should forgive our enemies even while they continue to persecute us, I agree with you that this seems to be taking things rather too far, and actually encourages such behaviour.

    Sometimes violence leads to more violence, sometimes it doesn’t. Example of the former: the Arab-Israeli conflict. Example of the latter: World War II.

    Sometimes people are just evil and need to be stopped at all costs. And sometimes they don’t. The tricky bit is recognising which case applies.

    • By the way, the post is 6 months old. Russia continues to kick Ukraine in the head while officially denying that Russian troops are present in Ukraine. This hypocrisy is so open that Putin has posted the text of the Minsk agreement on his official web site, and it requires Ukraine and the “rebels” to pull heavy artillery 70 kilometers away from the present line of confrontation, and the list of weapons to be pulled away include Tornado-S rocket launchers – a powerful Russian weapon created in 2012 that only Russia has. Everyone is thinking, what’s next? I guess, the west is giving signs that if this nonsense doesn’t stop within the next few days, the west will send weapons to Ukraine, and Ukrainian president promised to declare officially that his country is at war. (So far it is internally called “antiterrorist operation” – another nonsense, but what can you do if your enemy denies engagement in the conflict?

      I’m still in favor of forgiveness on the condition that the enemy stops kicking me in the head.

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