Loving Our Enemies:

A Look at Why We Wrongly Love Our Enemies

By Dan Allender

Copyright © 1995 Mars Hill Review 3 Fall 1995 · Issue No. 3: pgs 8-21.

The crowd rose in impassioned approval when the speaker finished his diatribe and walked away from the podium. The evening lecture was a huge success and the audience lauded him with waves of applause.

I stood with the throng and applauded with enthusiasm too. Yet as I clapped, I felt awkward - almost ashamed for feeling so good. The speaker had humorously and winsomely dismantled the entertainment industry for using music, television, and movies to sell the degradation of women, children, and human dignity.

The facts are indisputable--secular, godless values are daily infiltrating our homes without our awareness or complaint. And on this evening over an hour of bombast brought roars of laughter and sighs of consternation. Our guide inflamed us to fight the insidious evil and called us to be morally upright and responsible citizens.

I left the auditorium--humored, aroused to indignation, and uncomfortable. It took several hours before my discomfort could be put to words. Then it dawned on me -I was invited to hate ungodliness without ever being called to look at the same "stuff" in my life.

I was in a quandary: Nothing the speaker had said seemed insincere, manipulative, or hyperbolic. On the other hand, nothing he had said compelled me to look at my own life, my Christian culture, or the core problems that might deepen my need for the gospel. I was told that the enemy of good people is the media that daily assaults us with the glorification of sex, violence, immorality, drug abuse, and deceit.

I do not question the validity of this claim. But the message was positioned so that we would see ourselves as the bastion of good surrounded by the heathen hordes: It is our duty to stand firm and proceed victorious against those who are our enemies. It is a holy crusade, and any who will not fight with us are not our friends--indeed they are the unwitting or, worse, conscious consorts of the enemy.

I recalled hearing a speechwriter for the Reagan Administration lament the collapse of the Soviet empire. He said: "We have lost a worthy adversary. We may never find again in this century an enemy that draws us together, fuels our imagination, and impassions our principles like the old Bear." We love our enemies. Not in the way envisioned by Jesus; nonetheless, we love, in fact, need our enemies. They provide us with benefits that at times far outweigh their danger.

It is naive to assume the speaker who rallied us against the media is wrong. But is he right? Is our enemy the moguls who make millions by tantalizing us with sex and violence - or is the greater enemy our purient, self-righteous heart? The question cannot be answered with quick assertions.

Recently I sat with ten members of a pastoral staff who talked with me about their concerns regarding the counseling movement. Their horror stories began with the tragic. One member had been encouraged by a Christian therapist to have an affair. As a professional counselor, I too was indignant.

We then moved to the theoretical. I was asked by the staff if I believed it to be important to access and feed my inner child. Again I grimaced and informed them my appetite was sufficient without having to justify what I eat on an illusory concept like a separate, inner being.

We descended next to professional turf wars. Hadn't the gospel become predominately psychologized and stripped of its power to change the human heart? Who was the proper care giver for the soul? What was the best training for interacting with people? Wasn't I a highly paid spiritual guide in essence no different from the pastors who labored to help people grow in Christ?

The tone changed. Perhaps it was me, but I suspect we were now dealing with the matters that provoked more animosity than the tragic or the silly. I offered a few tentative thoughts and invited interaction, but what I encountered was something more like cool contempt.

What I seemed to gather is that counseling is for some the new enemy of the church--an illegitimate son or daughter whom family members wish would go away, but who, as long as he or she exists will probably get a place at the table during the Thanksgiving meal.

Counseling was once heralded by some as the life-giving antidote to sanctimonious pretense. It was a light to those caught in the forest of dishonesty who knew their inner world was terribly disjunctive from their external profession. But over time counseling has come to be seen as a place of endless historic rumination, self-absorption, and glorifying of victimization. Further, it is claimed that the professionalization of counseling has created a new caste of priests who claim turf, wield magical words and incantations, and exact bounty that diminishes the power of the proclaimed Word and the glory of a priesthood of all believers.

None of the questions voiced nor concerns offered were illegitimate--but I sensed that any attempt at discussion was pointless. Somehow a decision had been reached: Counseling is bad. It is an enemy. At that point all dialogue was impossible.

Soon after that episode I was hosted by a group of counseling-center directors. I was asked to speak to them about the growing hostility between the pastoral and counseling communities. The first thing I noticed was the difference in language. Whereas the pastors talked about ministry to the saints, the directors remarked about their struggles with the wounded. The pastors were impassioned about proclaiming truth to the sheep, and the counselors longed to see healing come to the heavy-laden.

The inherent difference of focus did not seem to be either necessarily in opposition,nor contradictory. But what I did notice as a point of similarity was the way the directors spoke about the denial, ivory-towered distance, and superficial advice offered by many in the pastoral community. The same cool contempt was present. The same refusal to dialogue about the unique struggles and biases of the pastoral community was similar to the pastoral community's rejection of the counseling movement. Each side had an enemy--and the enemy was necessary for cohesion in its ranks, a sense of doing good, and a passion for persevering in the wearisome battle of life.

It all begs the question. Who are we without our enemies? We are people thrown before the great mirror of God who sees the things we hate in others as equally part of our own soul.

A proper view of our enemies might enable us to become more desperate people who see in the radical otherness of our enemy a glimpse of ourselves and our need for forgiveness. What I hope to consider in this essay is why we often search for enemies that are not the Enemy and how those enemies can transform us to know the real Enemy and our true friend(s).

Need for an Enemy

Intimacy without Hunger

My friend and I spent many of our lunches talking about Darren. He was a coworker on a church project. He was glib, insincere, and manipulative. He worked hard and did his work well, but he was not "one of us." At least we did not want him to be part of us. After many, many lunches my friend finally said: "We've got to stop talking about Darren. He seems like the prime reason we get along anymore." My friend cut to the quick of why enemies are so loved: they provide unity without requiring true humanity. They provide the basis of intimacy through the agency of contempt.

My friend and I were just beginning our friendship. We seemed to share many of the same likes and dislikes, and like many men we related on a warm but bantering basis. It would have been very difficult for me to talk about where I felt afraid, alone, confused, or hurt. It would have been nearly impossible to truly receive my friend's delight and care. But we could and did feel connected and close when we violated Darren with contempt. My friend hated pretentious know-it-alls and he always knew who was one. I joined him in the thrill of finding fault.

C.S. Lewis talks about the delicious thrill of being in the center circle of a clique--accepted in the sanctum of an inner ring. To be "in", that is, accepted by the powerful and the beautiful, requires we join in a dance of intimacy that involves neither the pursuit of virtue, or the godly expression of human desire. Lewis describes it this way:

...if you are drawn in, not by desire for gain or ease, but simply because at that moment, when the cup was so near your lips, you cannot bear to be thrust back again into the cold outer world. It would be terrible to see the other man's face--that genial, confidential, delightfully sophisticated face--turn suddenly cold and contemptuous, to know that you had been tried for the Inner Ring and rejected. And then, if you are drawn in, next week it will be something a little further from the rules, and next year something further still, but all in the jolliest, friendliest spirit. It may end in a crash, a scandal, and penal servitude: it may end in millions, a peerage and giving the prizes at your old school. But you will be a scoundrel." {1}

An enemy shared between friends provides the grisly ingredients for a banquet of contempt. We can laugh--humoring ourselves with his foibles and foolishness and lauding ourselves with our courage and wisdom. In the din of the meal, we never need face that our enjoyment of each other is grounded in hatred. Intimacy based on hatred will always be intense and insecure. It requires greater proof of loyalty in order to insure continual re-election to the inner circle. I cannot express doubt, confusion, hurt or loneliness because the others may see me as a weak link that may break in the battle with the enemy. And so subterfuge takes priority over honesty; mockery over compassion; gossip over blessing and; vengeance over mercy.

To the degree intimacy is based on hatred of the enemy, I will become inhuman. The enemy seems to justify my flight from vulnerability and necessitate my self-protection.

An enemy also gives us another reason to remain together that goes beyond dark intimacy. Our enemies give us a mission that allows us to feel powerful and necessary without ever needing to face our own pride and self-righteousness.

Power (Purpose) Without Humility

Darren, the enemy that drew my friend and me closer in dark intimacy, was a danger to our ministry. He was persuasive and controlling. He wanted people to ignore their struggles and do the work of God. We, on the other hand, wanted people to enter their struggles and grow in passion to live out the good news. At first that might slow people down from being involved in formal ministry; but we were convinced it would eventually deepen their hearts to be even more involved in loving God and others with greater joy, passion, and, in the long run, perseverance.

Darren did not see it that way, and two sides evolved, each with the holy sense that the other was a danger to godliness. It became the holy mission of each side to undermine the character, motivation, methods, and outcome of the other.

We were soldiers in a war for truth, and even though lines of godliness were crossed--our side's gossip was ignored; innuendo against the opposing side was redefined as concern; and their choices were invariably interpreted as self-serving and deceitful--we were assured that overall God was being honored by our labor.

The enemy serves as the platform for doing good--that is, destroying what is dangerous in order for good to grow. The person who pulls weeds in a garden knows he does good through eradicating something evil. For that reason, enemies must be viewed as more than merely enemies; they must be viewed as an enemy of that which is good and right. The enemy is dark, deceitful, and dirty. Their intentions are viewed from the vantage point of greed and power. They claim to be sincere, but their heart is bent on harm. They are heretics. They are rich. They are arrogant. They are our near mirror opposite.

James Aho, a sociologist, looked at the rhetoric of the reformers Luther and Calvin and found that their diatribes used extensive scatological language. Aho writes:

Citing passages from the prose and poetry of Jonathan Swift and from Martin Luther Brown demonstrates that as early as 1700 in European folklore there existed associations between evil, Satan, human enemies, and the material world generally, and scatological symbols. The evidence is particularly glaring in Luther's case. Even those who righteously anoint themselves with the title "Christian," says Luther in one place, are in truth "the filth of squiredom, merd smeared on the sleeve and veritable ordure." Far worse are Jews (whom Luther berates as Schweinehunden, swine-dogs, hence in common usage, "feces-eaters"), papists ("the filth and stench of Satan"), and merchants (who deal in "filthy lucre"). The equation between dung and human affairs in Reformation prophecy, according to Brown, is so intimate as to constitute its "psychological premise" and "central axiom." It is an equation still preached from many fundamentalist Christian pulpits." {2}

Once a person or movement is attacked in black-and-white categories--we are good and they are bad,--then it is not surprising that morally good people would feel compelled to throw out the refuse. And in eradicating the refuse, we are given the thrill of doing good for others and God.

The tragedy is that such do-gooding refuses to see in one's own heart the very ill that is supposedly deserving to be destroyed in the other. Let me give an example from the anti-counseling debate. I spoke to a man who was incensed that I charged a fee for talking with people about their lives. He inferred that I must be a materialistic, opportunistic man.

His claim was that we ought to be ministering to one another out of love for the Lord and not for professional fees. I asked him if he felt a workman was worthy of his hire. He said yes. I asked if it was illegitimate for a pastor, or a song leader, or a youth worker to receive payment for his or her labor. He said he believed it was utterly legitimate. I then asked him why he felt it was improper for a portion of my livelihood to come from believers who wanted to talk about matters of the heart that troubled their ability to live for the gospel.

His answer was professional fees are not warranted at the rate most counselors charge given that a mature, godly lay-person, who has focused on the area of sexual abuse and grown in experience over time might be able to offer the same service for no charge at all. I asked him if one of his complaints boiled down to the issue that I charged too much. He said: "Absolutely. How can you justify before God what you charge?"

I happened to know that he sold eyeglasses and contact lenses for a living. I also know that contact lenses which sell for hundreds of dollars cost pennies to manufacture. I asked him how he could justify selling products that cost pennies for a significant sum of money beyond what they "seem" to be worth. His only answer was the phrase: "Market value."

I do not think the issue of whether counseling is a calling, a profession, or a job is best addressed here; nor is it possible to consider how one is to price any task, skill, or professional transaction. But what I sensed in this man who viewed counseling as a blight on the church was an unwillingness to wrestle with the very issue in his own life that he used to impugn counseling.

If we are apt not to see in our critique of movements and institutions what it reveals of us, how much more true it is when we select personal enemies. The man who seems bent on dogmatically asserting a particular view of the Lord's return can be dismissed and disliked for his dogmatic arrogance--but do I see even in my assessment the strains of the same disease I so easily detect in him?

The enemy can easily allow me a platform for self-righteous service unto God and humanity. He enables me to join with others in dark fellowship. He provides the war that compels me to put aside doubts, fears, and struggle in order to serve the great good of the righteous.

But what must we do with the fact that we all seem to have enemies both within and outside the community of faith? Truly it is paranoid to assume that everyone we think is an enemy is indeed our enemy. On the other hand, it is naive to think that all our enemies are only misjudged friends.

If I am apt to hunt for enemies to solidify my friendships, ignore my self-righteousness, and justify my harm of others, then what is the hope? Can we ever hope to bless our enemies and discover our true friends?

We will learn to bless our enemies to the degree we see them to be unwitting advocates for our soul. When we see the real benefit of an enemy for our life, then we will be more apt to thank God for that person's privileged role in our maturity.

The Good of an Enemy

Jesus calls us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48). He neither denies we will have enemies, nor implies that loving those who are disposed to destroy us will be easy. But he does envision that our enemy is a vital opportunity to know God. He says in verse 45 we are to love our enemies "...that you may be sons of your Father in heaven." Jesus seems to imply that we gain a benefit in loving our enemy that enables us to enter more fully into the privileges of sonship. How is this the case?

Enemies serve at least two great benefits to us: 1) They guide us to see our need for grace, and 2) they add clarity to our evolving understanding of truth. In so doing, our enemies give us both a greater taste of true intimacy and purpose.

Ushering us to the Banquet of Grace

Nothing is more unnerving to an enemy than your being grateful for him. The enemy hates you and wishes to see you destroyed. To give the enemy a second cheek to slap, a coat to keep warm, and an eagerness to carry his pack demoralizes him because his desire for power and supremacy has been thwarted through service. He wishes only to see you fight or flee; for you to do neither but instead to offer in submission the riches of love is to make him a master who is stricken with poverty.

Yet, is the heart of service and gratitude toward an enemy a strange internal phenomenon that only the most odd saints ever realize, or, worse, a fiction, a pretense we suppose we ought to feel but suspect that no one has ever come close to grasping it? I do not claim to know much about this ideal heart, but I believe an enemy can be prized if we are able to see how he opens a door to the banquet of grace that comes through brokenness. This door opens wider to the degree we allow ourselves to be grasped by three core assertions.

1. The log I see in you is a small indicator of the forest in me.

It is a simple formula with many twists of complexity, but I can presume what I hate in you is something I don't want to see in myself. Stated more brusquely: Whatever I hate in you reveals the arrogant presumptions that underlie my self-righteousness.

For example -- I hate dogmatism. I hate the assertive, doubt-free, arrogant presumption that you are the repository of what is true and that all others with equal sincerity, scholarship, and passion are wrong. Tragically, much theologizing and psychologizing is done by party-spirited elitists who look with disdain and arrogance at those who do not agree with their "truth."

Reread the last sentence. Note any anger? Do you read in the paragraph any of the force and stridency of those I accuse of standing on the other side and proclaiming we have got to quit compromising the truth? Does it not reveal in me the potential of grandiosity, self-serving exploitation of division, and/or an unwillingness to grapple with different truth claims?

Without question, I do believe there are many approaches to both doctrine and life that are both inaccurate and harmful. There are kind, sincere, and caring people who I believe are leading the people of God toward harm; there are self-aggrandizing, arrogant, unbroken people who teach good doctrine but live in a way that confuses and misleads many. Yet it is not wavering in these beliefs for me to admit that my dogmatism in fighting dogmatism indicts me along with my enemies.

2. Facing the log in our eye is the precondition to attending the party.

A recent enemy faxed me a letter condemning one of my books. Before the ink from the fax machine was even cool I had already surmised his motives, tactics, and delight in causing me distress. I condemned him and refused to consider his concerns.

I may be correct in my mental assessment, but I was dead wrong in my heart. Irrespective of his intention, I knew my heart was hard, cold, and mean. I went to my office burdened with another unwanted fight, but in short order I heard the sorrow of God grieving for my heart. I needed grace at that moment as much if not more than when I first became a Christian.

The log is our party invitation. It may not be lovely, nor engraved in gold, but it is the only means we have to get into the banquet of God. My log usually comes from the same genus of tree. I have been found with the same deciduous, sappy tree limb so many times that I have considered opening a mill, but each logjam that blocks vision and joy is another invitation that staggers me with the incomprehensible, passionate perseverance of God to throw another party in my honor.

3. The joy in the party makes us a debtor to our enemy.

Immanuel Levinas, a brilliant Jewish ethicist, has said we are responsible for all men. He often quotes two lines from Dostoyevsky: "We are all guilty of all and for all men before all, and I more than the others"; and, "We are all responsible for all men before all, and I more than all the others." {3}

He believes that all others, have a claim on me by virtue of their humanity. I am subjectively aware of their existence even before I am aware of my own. And it is primarily in becoming aware of the other's face that I see myself. The face of the other is the mark of humanity that most reveals the presence of God. No other part of a human being distinguishes him more; no other part of him farther more transcends his humanness and points to God.

Without the other, I could not see myself--and even when the other sees me inaccurately or with a bias to do harm, I am still his debtor for what he reveals in me. At times, the enemy may even see me more clearly than does my friend. I am a debtor to him for a perspective about me that invigorates my search to know who I am.

Who am I? Levinas argues I am both guilty and responsible. Simply put, if I were in the garden as a man I would be silent, eat, and then turn fearful and violent. My enemy reveals I of all men am most guilty.

But I am not merely a broken shard, a miscreant with no hope. The enemy shatters the presumption of my self-righteousness by showing me how little heart I have for God. The party begins and then I notice that my brother has not joined the festivities. He has refused to come in and I am responsible for him. It is the Father who goes for his eldest boy; but it is I, his other, errant, self-righteous son, who bear the responsibility to party.

I will face my older brother, who is now my enemy, soon enough, and I must do so with the living paradox that I am an unworthy son who has been dressed in robes, shoes, and a ring that laugh at my sin even though my heart breaks.

If I truly see the gospel more clearly because of my enemy, then how can I not thank him? My responsibility to all humankind, at core, is to be grateful for their existence. A friend draws me to the intimacy of the banquet; an enemy compels me to see that the only way I will banquet with God is through the wonder of his forgiveness. I am a debtor to my enemy for being the postman who delivers my invitation to life.

An enemy is also the window of truth. If I am humbled by what my enemy reveals in my heart, then I am better prepared to listen to his claims against me. Our enemies would not be troubling to us if they did not bring to our attention truths that we have not taken into account or articulated well for life. An enemy not only invites us to intimacy but provide clarity to grow in truth.

Exposing Us to the Brilliance of Truth

I never really thought about the unconscious. I suppose I knew it existed, but I never really gave it much thought. I recall the first time an unbelieving and mocking professor gave scientific and anecdotal data about its existence. His sophistication and arrogance repulsed me, but I was confused by what I believed as a young Christian. He was my enemy, but he compelled me to explore what I had not considered.

My memory quickly switches to the last time I was called a Freudian by an anti-counseling advocate. His accusation came because I had just taught on the unconscious. He informed me the word never shows up in the Bible; it was coined by Freud, and it strips us of our responsibility for what we do.

I gladly shared with him that many words we use regularly to describe biblical concepts--such as trinity -- do not show up in the Bible. Freud did not coin the word. And my adversary's view of the relationship of self-awareness and responsibility revealed a Pelagian view of sin. I pointed out to him that Romans 2 cuts to the core of the issue by showing that ignorance is never the basis of innocence since the law of God is written on our hearts.

He was neither impressed nor swayed. And his opinion of me grew darker because I had not agreed with him. He was my enemy, yet he compelled me to reexamine what I believed. I had not been sure that Romans 2 was an adequate response to his concern about responsibility; I thought I knew why his argument was Pelagian, but hadn't been certain.

An enemy exposes in us what we don't know (or don't want to face) and what we do know, but does so incompletely and usually without depth or conviction. The enemy is like a tutor who plays devil's advocate. The result will either be growth and a sharpening of our perspective, or a change in our cherished opinions.

The fact is, our enemy is often right--to some degree. Seldom will he reveal a fact or opinion that does not have some validity. His motives may be to crush us, but his argument, unless it is an outright lie or an utter contradiction of the Bible, has a substance that we often miss or undervalue in our viewpoint.

Unwittingly, the enemy invites us to know and be changed by truth. Often, he uses slander to destroy. A reputations can easily be maligned or ruined. But unless the enemies accusations are outright lies, the kernel of truth is a lens with which to look deeper into both our soul and truth. Recall the occasion when King David was accused of being a man of blood by Shimei he was fleeing from Absalom.

As he cursed, Shimei said, "Get out, get out, you man of blood, you scoundrel! The LORD has repaid you for all the blood you shed in the household of Saul, in whose place you have reigned. The LORD has handed the kingdom over to your son Absalom. You have come to ruin because you are a man of blood!" Then Abishai son of Zeruiah said to the king, "Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and cut off his head." But the king said, "What do you and I have in common, you sons of Zeruiah? If he is cursing because the LORD said to him, `Curse David,' who can ask, `Why do you do this?'" David then said to Abishai and all his officials, "My son, who is of my own flesh, is trying to take my life. How much more, then, this Benjamite! Leave him alone; let him curse, for the LORD has told him to. It may be that the LORD will see my distress and repay me with good for the cursing I am receiving today." So David and his men continued along the road while Shimei was going along the hillside opposite him, cursing as he went and throwing stones at him and showering him with dirt. (2 Samuel 16:7-13)

David did not fight Shimei with the sword or truth claims. He listened to the accusation and considered the possibility it was from God. I find his response remarkable. David considered it as potentially being from God and hoped his plight of being wickedly accused would draw forth the Lord's compassion. And he moved on. He neither attempted to dispute, harm, nor win his enemy. He had a more pressing issue to attend to.

It is impossible to use his response as the final paradigm for handling each and every encounter with an enemy. One would need to factor in how Jesus dealt with the Pharisees and Roman officials, and Paul's defense of his calling and the gospel in 2 Corinthians. But David's response does show another element of the complex, mature view we are to hold of our enemy.

Like David we are to hear out the enemy and learn. We are to ponder the accusation as if it were from God. It may be. And as our enemy deepens our hunger for forgiveness and clarifies our view of truth, then we can truly bless him.

But as you consider the blessing that the enemy provides in both revealing your heart and sharpening your perspective of truth, pray as David did for both God's compassion to be poured out on you and for vindication of your life. To learn from and be grateful for one's enemy will not take away either the pain or the damage of the enemy. Yet, in allowing our enemy to move us to the Father, we take away his ultimate power and turn his curse into a blessing.

But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:44-45a)

{1} C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1949), 63.

{2} James Aho, This Thing of Darkness: A Sociology of the Enemy (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1994), 110.

{3} Immanuel Levinas, Ethics and Infinity (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1985), 98-101.