(This post is written for the ‘bless those who curse you campaign‘)
I’ve been a Christian all of my life… I grew up as a pentecostel kid in a post-catholic country that happened to be evolving into one of the final stages of the european dechristianisation. Looking back I learned a lot from both my pentecostel and evangelical (and later as a teenager vineyard) church , and the liberal-sliding-to-atheism catholicism that I encountered in the religion classes in my catholic school.
I learned a lot about the bible, the cross of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit in the pentecostel church. From my catholic school I didn’t always learn that much about those things, but what remained from Christianity was an emphasis on values that were distilled from Jesus words. An emphasis on loving our neibor, which lead to social justice issues and what I now would call creation care, which was not the most important subject for most people in the pentecostel church… (The world was gonna burn up soon, and Jesus would come to rapture us)
I know now that both sides are important. We canot claim to be Christians without believing in the cross and resurrection of Christ, and we miss a lot if we don’t believe that the Spirit works through us, and neither does it make sense to claim to be a Christian when you don’t care about our fellow humans, or Gods creation. So from those 2 sides I got parts of the puzzle. But still there might have been missing something.
The fundamentalists like to take everything in the bible, as long as it’s just something that need to intellectually believe, or something that can be useful to point out sin in other so we as real believers can separate us from them. But like Shane Claiborne says, most fundamentalism is ‘selective fundamentalism’, and some of the most imortant words seem to be not included in the list of bible verses that are important to believe litterally.
Saint Augustine said something like a bible interpretation that does not lead us to growing further into living out the double law of loving God and our neigbor is always wrong, and one who does, how misguided our ways of thinking might be, is fulfilling it’s purpose… But that’s not the way I’ve seen people read the bible. There are lots of ‘infallible truths’ that are straight from the bible, but it the end they are just interpretations, and someone else might look at the same verses in a totally different way… But one of the verses that I have not seen highlighted very much by fundamentalists and gatekeepers is ‘love your enemies, and bless for those who persecute you’ from Jesus himself in the sermon on the mount.
What is interesting is that if we do this, Jesus says in Matthew 5, we will be called Children of God. Earlier in the sermon on the mount this expression is used for the peacemakers. (Yes, he really did say peacemakers, and NOT cheesemakers!)
Ye have heard that it was said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy: but I say unto you, love your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you; that ye may be sons of your Father who is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust. For if ye love them that love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more? do not even the Gentiles the same?
What a different world it would be if we would indeed live differently as christians and if we all would really follow Christ in our lives, and not just try to have faith in the right orthodox statements of faith. I’m not at all goint to dismiss Christian orthodoxy; it’s important that we know what we believe in, and stuff. But that’s only half the story… We have to live it out.
Jesus never says to make believers of the one true orthodoxy out of the nations, he says us to go the nations, and make disciples. And if a rabbi talks about following him, that’s not just clicking ‘follow’ on a twitter account. It was following the rabbi wherever he went, and he could give you a valuable lesson out of every little thing that happened. It was following with your whole life!
And the core of Jesus message is that law of love. Paul even seems to say that Love is even more important than faith 1 Cor 13… He can not at all mean that faith and hope are not hugely important. No, they are, but love is even more important, and without it even the biggest faith doesn’t matter… And Then there is that little epistle of James, which tells us that a faith without works is dead. And what is the expample of those ‘works’? Taking care of our neigbor, living out the law of love. Works of love!
I has never been Gods will to just have a bunch of people who are just believing all the right Truth, and that’s it. The Truth is important just because it’ll transform us and the world around us when we live it out, because it advances His Kingdom. But if we don’t let it work inside of us, it won’t do a thing. It’s like believing that the sheet music of a symphony ‘is beautiful’ and ‘rightly composed’. If we don’t get together with instruments to play the symphony, we will miss everything, no matter how beautiful the sheet music is…
So Christianity is a way of life. The first Christians called it ‘the way’. And the main componet of the way is the law of love, the double law of love towards God and others. And this is not only restricted to those fellow humans who happen to like us. No, Jesus explicitly tells us to even ‘love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute you’. To repay evil with good, which might be the only way to stop the cylcle of violence…
This is one of the hardest things in the Christian faith to live out. But I do believe that it is of unmeasurable important to do this! Jesus didn’t just come to forgive us in a mystical way, but to transform Creation. It’s true that this world is still under the veil of evil and decay, but we as Kingdom people are called to already embody that reality that will be once true, when all evil will be banished…
So where are our seminars and conferences on enemy love? Where are the books with 30 days of learning pragmatically how to love our enemies the way Jesus told us? Where are the bible fundamentalist who take the words of Jesus litterally and rejoice loudly when they feel persecuted for their faith?
And before I get charismatic and/or calvinist objections, I’m not saying we have to do this all by ourselves. We need the Spirit of God guiding us. But that’s a symbiosis. When we take steps, God will help us, maybe even in a miraculous was… A good example of this is the famous story ofrry Ten Boom and the concentration camp guard. Her family had been hiding people who were running from the nazis in the second world war, and when they got caught they were deported to concentration camps. She and her sister were taken to Ravensbruck, where her sister dies, and she got a trauma…
A few years later she is preaching in germany, about forgiveness, and suddenly one of the guards, who had treated her cruelly, was there, asking to hear from her that he was forgiven. It seems impossible for a human to do such a thing. But the miracle of the love of God came only when she, knowing both that forgiving was the only optian for her,- and that she could only forgive as a act of will, accepted to shake his hand regardless of all feelings.
It’s nice and comfortable when we reduce the Christian faith to a system of beliefs and theological statements about how Jesus’ death will help us to not go to hell but to heaven after this life. But that’s not what Jesus came to do. Jesus came to proclaim the coming Kingdom of God! And the Kingdom of God requires us to live in a Kingdom way, and not in the ways of the world.
The way of the Kingdom life can be found in places like the sermon on the mount. Jesus’ sacrifice was a victory over evil, death, sin and hell, but it was also the ultimate example for us of how far the law of love can go! There is no reason at all to place those 2 aspects of Jesus death against each other, they are connected and should not be separated!
So, I already asked the question; how can we learn more how to love our enemies? When are we going to give ourselves for Jesus’ Kingdom, instead of ‘taking the country for God’.
Let us pray
who is in heaven
Let Your Kingdom come
Let Your will be done
in every aspect of our lives
as in heaven
teach us to listen to Your Spirit
fill us with self-giving love
not only for those who like us
but to our enemies
so that they can see the Kingdom in us
whether they like it or not
Make us light and salt
to live out your law of love
and bring on Your Kingdom
so that Your name, Father
will be glorified
This post is part of the Bless Those Who Curse You Campaign’s Synchroblog. Others blogging on this topic:
David Henson at Unorthodoxology: Can Anybody Find Me Somebody to Love?
George Elerick at The Love Revolution: Toxicity
Brian Ammons at Nekkid Ressurrection: Loving Those Who Curse Us
Tia Lynn Lecorchick at Loving Our Enemies: Where to Begin?