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Thursday, October 3, 2013

Enemies as Blessings

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48 NIV)


Hear and follow in text a full-length sermon of Dr. Martin Luther King on the topic of loving your enemies:

Practically speaking how can I come to love my enemy since the drive inherent within human nature to retaliate after a perceived hurt is virtually insurmountable? The answer lies in our coming to see even our worst enemy as a blessing; for even our worst enemy can teach us something about human nature and thus about ourselves—and coincidentally can give us the liberating and creative opportunity to be generous and forgiving (increasing our own self-esteem in positive rather than destructive ways). That is, rather than tit-for-tat destructiveness; we can attain the greater good—especially for ourselves—by responding with the attitude and actions of love. Surely we must realize that when Dr. Martin Luther King responded to his enemies in love rather than hatred, the most immediate if not chief beneficiary was himself. When we are tempted to see only bad in our enemies and only good in us, let us realize that we are only doing what comes naturally. Jesus calls us to see even our most exasperating neighbor as a blessing and an opportunity to be of service to ourselves and to our enemy. Only in this way—as seeing our enemy as a blessing—can we hope to respond with redemptive love.

I know right off we think of extreme cases. Was a victim of Nazi genocide at Dachau by self-talk and attitude adjustment magically to come to see the Nazi’s as a blessing? Well, I’m constrained to say that self-talk is extremely important in all cases where we have somebody who hates us and thus almost reflexively enrages us. There may be nothing we can do in the present moment to control or affect the person attacking us. At the moment we cannot change the thoughts of our neighbor and may have limited to no control over their actions. But we can exercise some control through self-talk and attitude adjustment of our own responses.

Now, as to action we are in some sense limited. It is much easier relatively speaking to control our own actions when flowing from a sense of gratitude; when through goodwill we come to love our enemy even though their best lights and ours markedly differ on a single instance. Now it is true that we can be called upon to limit the harmful actions of others—especially when those harmful acts affect not only us, but perhaps a wide spectrum of innocent individuals. Thus sometimes it is necessary to obviate as much as possible the actions of others.

The police power of the state of course frequently finds itself as the instrument of action and justice. In other words, rather than taking vengeance into our own hands, we let a third party (the state) arrive at a considered response to hurtful provocation. In this situation we do not ask that police power be inflamed in a retaliatory way with hatred. Law officer professionalism as much as humanly possible seeks to propagate effective and limited action without being driven by the excesses and inflammations of personal hatred. Even though a legal structure can dampen hatred in some instances, we are left with the million and one animosities that do not rise to the level of criminality.

In these areas self-talk as to mercy, graciousness, forgiveness, empathy (putting oneself in another’s shoes), the realization of the mystery of human conscience, motivation, and perception; all can lead us to seeing even our enemies as an unfathomable blessing that provides us with opportunities for positive and constructing creativity born of elemental respect if not effusive goodwill. We quite intentionally withhold putting ourselves in God’s judgment seat elevating ourselves to the final judge and arbiter of other people and events—not even of our enemies or events in which we are intimately involved. We are to keep fully in mind that we are far from a disinterested party and the related consequential mischief such an identity can have upon our most enduring perceptions. We must needs proceed with strength and firmness guided by our own best lights, throwing ourselves before the mercy seat of God.

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