No one ever asked Jesus which was the hardest command, but had they done so, I feel confident it would be to love your enemies as you love yourself. Oh, how I struggle with that one!
I have dealt with this command fairly well at its most abstract level: national enemies. When I was younger I was a true “law and order” and “America first” patriot. I had all the necessary spite for Russia or Cuba or whoever else my leaders told me was the enemy. After walking with Jesus a while, I began to stop judging people based upon national identity, but to view people as individuals, which made nationalistic hate impossible. It took some time, but I do not find this level of enemy love to be particularly difficult.
At a second level, I realized there are enemies within our own camp. Again, it was helpful for me to view these enemies as individuals, not as groups. I am not speaking here of criminals within our national society as much as I am of people within our churches who cause dissension. There was a time when I thought my negative feelings toward them were justified as “righteous indignation” before I admitted that my indignation was often just anger or hatred, and it was never righteous. Jesus has helped me a great deal with no longer viewing people who disagree with me on doctrinal issues as enemies, even if they view themselves as my enemy.
It gets tougher, though, when the enemy is one who comes after my children. It is difficult to love an enemy who is a family member. Here I must confess to failure, even while I refuse to accept failure. It is hard for a Christian woman to love a spouse who abuses her, or for a Christian man to love one who brings a sexually transmitted disease home to him. Yet amidst all the options available to these strugglers, one option is removed: the option to hate. Here we often mask our hatred behind a veneer of justice: I just want justice to be done. I don’t want evil to triumph. As true as those statements are, there is often an unspoken current flowing rapidly just below the surface: I want my enemies to be crushed.
So I pray God’s justice. Would I be happy if, in the exercise of that justice, God demonstrated mercy? If God were to forgive what I demand should be punished, would I still worship and love God? May God grant me the strength to say yes.