Enemy Love Saves the World

The last few years have been an incredibly strange season as I’ve experienced the disorientation and reorientation of my faith. Emotionally, I’ve been a mixed bag. Though an exaggeration, I want to say I’ve experienced the fullest range of emotion available to humanity in just a few short years—grief, gratitude, bewilderment, relief, depression, hope, cynicism, more grief. (A note to evangelicals: please be patient with those of us in this place. It’s not exactly something we’ve chosen, as isolating and as painful as it often is.)

Relationally though, it is like the whole world has opened up to me. Several unforeseen friendships have surprisingly become instruments of healing in my life. Let me explain.

Nohemy and Sofia taught me about the vulnerability of the immigrant experience as they conveyed the fears and obstacles they faced as undocumented migrants fleeing their home and escaping one of the most violent nations in the world. Khalid, an international student from a country on the Arabian Peninsula, quickly became one of my and my husband’s dearest friends, sharing his life with us as we opened our hearts and home to him. Sarah, a feminist and pastor, spent hours processing with me, mentoring me, and encouraging me in my faith. Jenny entrusted me with her “coming out” and invited me to support her own journey of faith. An African American pastor and advocate for black lives, Dom has been another mentor of sorts. Palestinian sisters and brothers have taught me what it means to imitate an enemy-loving God.

I could go on.

These are not the kinds of relationships you would expect a white-USAmerican-evangelical to have. These are the kinds of people we have enmity with, not friendship. We certainly treat them as such—like “enemies” or at the very least like “others.” (Perhaps this is one reason why many have distanced themselves from evangelicalism.) Don’t believe me?

“Illegal immigrants are criminals”

“Islam is inherently a violent religion whose followers are intent on persecuting Christians”

“Feminism is ugly; it’s destroying the family unit”

“The LGBTQ movement is trampling on Christians’ religious liberties”

“All lives matter; BLM is a terrorist organization”

“Palestinians are terrorists”

This is, regrettably, the language I hear us using. It is the language of dehumanization. It is the language of othering. And even if we aren’t saying these things out loud, we’re largely living like we believe them.

So what happens when one embraces a mutually loving, life-giving relationship with a Palestinian? Or a feminist? Or an undocumented migrant? Or a Black Lives Matter advocate?

I know what happened to me.

The love of each friend mentioned above in one way or another contributed to my healing. They embraced me in my failings and celebrated me in my successes, rescuing me from shame and self-hatred. They restored some semblance of my faith in humanity and in the church, rescuing me from a degree of cynicism and disillusionment. Most of all, their friendship expanded my capacity to love and revealed to me that my flourishing is inherently connected to theirs, rescuing me from a hyper individualized, self-interested faith. In a very real and profound way, their love saved me.

And so my point: I’m convinced now more than ever that enemy-love saves the world, both in its giving and in its receiving.

The Apostle Paul says as much: “For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Romans 5:10-11) In his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus saves the world by loving his enemies (who were, apparently, all of us) and transforming them into his friends. Enemy-love and reconciliation is the way of life Jesus modeled for us and calls us to emulate.

Jesus says in his Sermon on the Mount, inarguably the most important moral discourse recorded in the gospels, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies… that you may be children of your Father in heaven. . . . If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48) It’s implied that when we faithfully embody this radical love of enemy we are children of God and perfect (or complete, whole) as God is perfect. Love that does not include love of enemy is not complete as God’s love is complete.

Jesus shows us that love is the only way to “defeat” an enemy—or in other words, to transform former enemies into genuine friends. I want more friendships rooted in this Jesus-centered narrative.

In The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World, Miroslav Volf writes, “To embrace the heart of the Christian faith is precisely to be pulled beyond the zone of comfort into the risky territory marked by the commitment to love one’s enemies.” Enemy-love is not practical, but it is the way of Jesus and the heart of the Christian faith. When I extend love to my “enemies,” I am in a sense extending the love of Christ. When I receive love from my “enemies” I am in a sense receiving the love of Christ.

This whole process of deconstruction is one of the most emotionally strenuous things that’s ever happened to me. I still have a tenuous relationship with the church I’m hoping to rectify. But I’ve encountered the love of Jesus through the love of my enemies-turned-friends and it has completely saved and transformed me and the faith I profess.

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