I recently read a blog post by a U.S. Army chaplain, who talks about his struggle with Jesus’ call to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. In a military context, he regularly finds himself asked some version of the question: “If ISIS killed your child, would you pray for them?” His answer? “Yes, while I am on my way to kill them.”
I understand this answer. It’s my natural answer, too. When others wrong me, I want to strike back. I want revenge. There’s something deeply human in the idea that we can somehow restore a measure of order, balance and justice to the world through violent retribution.
But for people like that army chaplain, and for any of us who claim Jesus as our Savior, Lord and Teacher, this is not an answer that we can ultimately accept. Jesus has commanded us to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us. The meaning of Jesus’ words are clear, unambiguous. If we take the Bible seriously — and, more importantly, if we take Jesus seriously — we must embrace the way of love for enemies.
Jesus’ actions are even clearer. Through his saving death on the cross, he demonstrates for us the way that God handles the sin, darkness and horrible injustice that has spread like a cancer in our world. Jesus died for us while we were still sinners, apart from God. Jesus died for us when we were his sworn enemies. Jesus’ death was no accident. We killed him.
Yet God in Jesus demonstrates a reaction that is so foreign to our broken human nature. Where we rush to seek bloody vengeance, Jesus allows his death to become a doorway to forgiveness, healing and transformation for we who have been the murderers.
In Jesus, we discover that our own rush to judgment and violence is a reflection of the fallen order — the darkness that God would free us from. When we become friends of Jesus, when we choose to follow him, we are led inevitably into an encounter with the cross — and that cross disarms us forever.
Nevertheless, we are called to a certain kind of warfare. The life of a disciple is full of struggle, since we are called to go against the grain of the surrounding society. History has shown time and again that many who choose to follow the way of Jesus will be subject to trouble, persecution, even death. In the midst of this challenge, our war is one of selfless love that stands firm in the face of hatred, evil and darkness — exposing it to the light for all to see.
Violence, oppression and all sorts of evil hide behind a veneer of respectability and authority. The role of the prophetic church is to issue an invitation to see what’s really happening behind the curtain. As disciples of Jesus, we are given authority to unveil empire, challenging all the powers and principalities that twist our society and harm our communities.
And when they come for us, when they slander and attack us, we have only one defense: prayer for enemies, and the courage to continue our powerful witness in the face of social pressure, threats and violence.
At the Friends of Jesus Fellowship Fall Gathering (Oct. 7-10), we’ll be exploring how we can actively, imaginatively and faithfully follow Jesus in a chaotic and broken world. I hope you’ll consider attending. Together, we can live more deeply into the way of courage, the way of the cross, the way of Jesus.
Micah Bales is a writer, teacher, and grassroots Christian leader based in Washington, D.C. He is a founding member of Friends of Jesus, a new Quaker community, and has been an organizer with the Occupy movement. You can read more of his work at www.micahbales.com or follow him on Twitter.