When I was recently in Tacoma, there was an interesting quote on the wall of the school where we were meeting for services and for the dance. This quote was attributed to Abraham Lincoln, and it accurately reflects his desire to work well with rivals, to help bury hostility by working together, and even his desire to bind up the wounds of the nation after the Civil War and to provide justice and freedom to those freed from slavery. To be sure, this desire was not always realized, but it was a sincere desire on his part, and one that he never lost in all of his years of politics. For all of the ferocity of politics of his time, politics that ended him in a duel one time because some of his writings had gotten him into trouble , he was not someone who pursued political agendas with a desire for violence, in stark contrast to many others of his time. When it comes to destruction, the ultimate destruction we should all wish of our enemies is the destruction of the enmity and hatred and hurt feelings that divide and separate us, and not the destruction of others.
To be sure, this is something I have sought to model in my own life. I am aware that, with all my imperfect qualities, I am someone who has caused more than my fair share of trouble for myself and others. My deep dislike for causing suffering to myself and others has not managed to decrease that suffering to the level where I feel sanguine about how I will be judged both now and hereafter. And yet I would hope that my good intentions and strenuous efforts and serious attention might have a positive end. I do not desire others to suffer, either now or in the world to come, and I dislike for people to feel embarrassed or humiliated on my account. As I have written about before , I cannot stand for others to be around me, especially frequently, if I have reason to believe they view me with some kind of ill will. For me, the only way I can feel safe and somewhat calm, at least relative to my usual state of anxiety, is to either be far away from those who are hostile to me, or to find a way of converting enemies to friends so that there is no more hostility to cause me intense distress.
I suppose I am not unique in this strategy. From biblical evidence, we can see that God has worked the same way Himself, as has Jesus Christ. A classic example of this is the calling of the Apostle Paul. When we first meet Saul (as was his Hebrew name), we see this intense young man helping to carry out the extralegal stoning of the deacon Stephen, who had made himself obnoxious by confounding the Hellenists by pointing out the stubbornness of the Israelite people in their hostility to God’s ways. We then find him throwing believers into prison and attempting to induce them to blaspheme against Jesus Christ. All of that changed when Paul was struck down and had a dramatic vision of Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus. From that moment, when Paul converted to Christianity, he was also converted from an enemy of God (albeit unknowingly) to a friend of God. That friendship was sealed through at least thirteen epistles in which Paul expounded on difficult truths about God’s way and their application in various aspects of Christian life.
One of the more difficult commands of the Bible is to bless those who curse you, to do good to those who hate you and persecute you, to pray for your enemies and those who spitefully use you. Of course, we must all candidly admit that there are people who, whether rightly or wrongly, think that we hate them because of the trouble and difficulty we bring into their lives. There are people we have all wronged through our words and deeds, whether we have meant evil or not. Yet, if we are godly and sensitive souls, we will see in the kindness of our enemies a desire to destroy the enmity that exists between people by showing that despite our hurts and our wounds over what has been said and done that we wish well for others and are willing to act kindly, even when it hurts. Our feelings are not a very accurate way of determining whether something is right or wrong—it can feel horrible to do the right thing, and it can feel good, at least for a little while, to do the wrong thing. Let us pray that eventually our hearts may be wise enough to feel joy in doing good, even when it does not necessarily work in our own interests here and now, and even when that good is done to people who may not recognize it or appreciate it, or who may think evil of it. Someday, if we are fortunate, it may bear fruit in friendship where once there was hostility. We can all hope for that, at least.
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