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What Would People Think?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Love Your Enemy (and a note on the blog contest)

You have heard that it was said: "Love your neighbor and hate your enemy." But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

- Jesus

Growing up in Christian culture, I think I've failed to realize how truly radical that teaching is.

It actually took a study of the book of Jonah (your more-than-half of the Bible, Jeff!) to help me realize that. Most people who know about that book remember the story of him being rescued from drowning by being swallowed by a whale/large fish which later spit him up on to dry land. But there's far more to that book than an ancient Pinocchio story.

The most interesting dynamic in Jonah is his absolute refusal to preach to the people of Assyria. And, after that little intra-whale cruise changes his mind, Jonah actually resents when God shows mercy to the Assyrians! What gives?

Well, Jonah's only showing a bit of understandable concern for national self-preservation. The Assyrians were Israel's enemies, a cruel and ruthless nation. Jonah probably suspected that, if they weren't wiped out by divine judgment or something, the Assyrians would wipe out Israel. And he was absolutely correct in that assessment. A few generations later, Assyria invaded Israel, scattering the inhabitants and permanently wiping out the northern kingdom of ancient Israel.

And yet God called Jonah to preach to the Assyrians and, when they repented, showed them mercy. THIS is how serious God takes the "love your enemy" teaching. We are to love those who could, and very probably will, cause us great harm. This is so contrary to everything we learn in this world....to everything we are taught by the way people around us behave. To the world, it's utter foolishness. To followers of Christ - if they are paying attention - it's a standard to aspire to.

This isn't just telling me to be nice to my neighbors upstairs who constantly blast loud music. (Though I fail even at that.) This is saying that I should take those who wish me destruction and misery - say, a terrorist - and seek their good.

Perhaps it's just my desire to avoid the implications of this teaching and thus make my life easier....but I'm having trouble envisioning what such radical love even looks like.

Let's start small: What would it look like to love my annoying neighbors?

What would it look like to love a terrorist? How about (and now we're getting really too deep for a blog) the man who murdered my nieces when I was 13?

Let me know what you think.

Okay, that was waaaaaaaaaaaay too serious. Time for some inappropriately-placed-in-the-same-blog-post levity.

Well the nominations are rolling in for my blog contest....from 2 people. Not to say there aren't some very funny contenders, but I was under the impression that a number of my friends were experts in satire. Yet nary a nomination from certain anonymous unnamed individuals who at least occasionally read this blog. What, you people got lives or something getting in the way of this noble endeavor? Nominate something!

The prize, by the way, will be cookies of some sort. My wife, by the way, is an excellent and creative baker. She has come up with some excellent cookie/cake flavors before.


  • It's interesting, but... for how many of my friends who blog are also erstwhile humorists, there are very few comedy posts written. I think we tend to write for our friends, who already know that we're kinda funny, so we don't feel the need to impress by being funny.

    And even if that weren't the case, I still wouldn't remember which posts from a person were particularly funny without going through and re-reading their entire archives.

    By Blogger Barzelay, at 11/15/2006 11:31 AM  

  • Love your enemy

    A comment about Jonah and his preaching to the Assyrians.

    I should make it a point and case to put not a penny but a dollar aside for every time I see an article repeating that the ancient Assyrians were "ruthless" people but no one mentions the accomplishments and the civilization that the ancient Assyrians left for the world,in addition to being the first people to believe in the message of salvation and spreading it as far as India,Mongolia,Soumatra,Japan,China,Azerbaijan, and so on with their monuments being witnesses to that great effort long before Marco Polo or the Roman Catholic Church set foot in those remote lands, the missionaries of the Holy Church of The East a.k.a. The Holy Apostolic Assyrian Church of The East,held a Cross in one hand and the Bible in the other and went on foot to preach the Gospel with Christian brotherly love and not coercion.

    The ancient Assyrians used force just like did the Romans,Greeks or Egyptians,even the Jews did.

    Since their historical lands in what's today known as Iraq amongst other parts of the Middle East were invaded by Persians,Arabs and Mongols the indigenous Assyrians have paid a hight price over the centuries just to preserve their identity,culture,language and history and they continue to suffer.

    A final point about Jonah who was supposed to be a believer yet he tried run away from God's command in order not to go to Assyria but the Assyrians listened to his message,repented and later on became the first people to believe in the Messiah and Salvation.

    The Old Testament is full of different stories which are pro and against people but the most important of them all is this verse from the New Testament Luke 11:32

    The Assyrians believed without seeing but those who had the light amongst them never saw it.

    Till today the Liturgical calendar of the Holy Apostolic Assyrian Church of The East still commemorates that event with a three day fast named the Rogation of the Ninevites and many traditions are attached to that fast.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11/15/2006 12:39 PM  

  • Now you've angered the Assyrian community, Ben - I hope you're happy.

    I agree with David, but I will make an effort to go through blogs tonight and remember what I most enjoyed. I greatly appreciate the two nominations for me, by the way.

    Feel free to ignore this question, but was the death of your nieces a drunk-driving thing, or an actual premeditated murder? I mean, either way, the guy's scum, and you'd be a better man than I for loving him.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11/15/2006 2:43 PM  

    By St. Nikolai of Ochrid

    Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

    Enemies have driven me into your embrace more than friends have. Friends have bound me to earth, enemies have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world. Enemies have made me a stranger in worldly realms and an extraneous inhabitant of the world. Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an un-hunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by enemies, found the safest sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath Your tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul.

    Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

    They, rather than I, have confessed my sins before the world. They have punished me, whenever I have hesitated to punish myself. They have tormented me, whenever I have tried to flee torments. They have scolded me, whenever I have flattered myself. They have spat upon me, whenever I have filled myself with arrogance.

    Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

    Whenever I have made myself wise, they have called me foolish. Whenever I have made myself mighty, they have mocked me as though I were a dwarf. Whenever I have wanted to lead people, they have shoved me into the background. Whenever
    I have rushed to enrich myself, they have prevented me with an iron hand. Whenever I thought that I would sleep peacefully, they have wakened me from sleep. Whenever I have tried to build a home for a long and tranquil life, they have demolished it and driven me out. Truly, enemies have cut me loose from the world and have stretched out my hands to the hem of your garment.

    Bless my enemies, Ï Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

    Bless them and multiply them; multiply them and make them even more bitterly against me: so that my fleeing to You may have no return; so that all hope in men may be scattered like cobwebs; so that absolute serenity may begin to reign in my soul; so that my heart may become the grave of my two evil twins: arrogance and anger; so that I might amass all my treasure in heaven; ah, so that I may for once be freed from self-deception, which has entangled me in the dreadful web of illusory life. Enemies have taught me to know what hardly anyone knows, that a person has no enemies in the world except himself. One hates his enemies only when he fails to realize that they are not enemies, but cruel friends. It is truly difficult for me to say who has done me more good and who has done me more evil in the world: friends or enemies. Therefore bless, Ï Lord, both my friends and my enemies. A slave curses enemies, for he does not understand. But a son blesses them, for he understands. For a son knows that his enemies cannot touch his life. Therefore he freely steps among them and prays to God for them.

    Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

    By Blogger Ρωμανος ~ Romanós, at 11/15/2006 6:38 PM  

  • Barzelay and Zhubin - Your points are fair enough. I must note, however, that apparently your own posts have been memorably funny enough to get people to remember and nominate them.

    Anonymous - Sorry if I offended you. Must say my knowledge of the ancient Assyrians is not extensive. Mainly I know that they were feared and that they wiped out the northern kingdom of Israel. My point was more that Jonah was right to fear the Assyrians. Any larger point about their accomplishments as a culture....well, I haven't the knowledge to make such a larger point.

    Zhubin - they were killed by a man robbing my brother's house while my brother was out. He tied up their mother, my ex-sister-in-law, and the girls started crying. Apparently, the guy panicked at their crying and killed them to quiet them. He was never caught.

    At this point, I find it impossible to feel anything but hatred toward that man....but I aspire for that to change. After all, there was a time when I was furious at God for letting that happen to my nieces. Over a 12-13 year process which is too complicated to go into in a blog comment, that has changed. Now, my greatest goal in life is to love like Christ loved. Which is a really, REALLY hard standard to meet. "Forgive them, Father...they know not what they do," is a hard thing to say about your murderers, I imagine.

    Romanos - your comments tend to be so deep that I need to sit and digest them. Right now, I haven't had a moment to pause and do so. But I will.

    By Blogger Ben, at 11/16/2006 7:29 AM  

  • Sorry, Ben, about what happened to your neices. No one in my family has ever been murdered, or even killed by accident. The most I have had to deal with as far as forgiveness is concerned, is learning to forgive those who hate me for no reason, or worse yet, accuse me and judge me guilty of things I know nothing about. But even that I somehow got over.

    Looking at my life, what I noticed is, the proof that you have forgiven someone, is how you treat them from then on, whether or not you actually pray for them. Treating them with indifference is NOT forgiving them, and I have been guilty of that kind of forgiveness often, though I try not to be.

    What helped me the most to understand this concept of loving and praying for your enemies was simply the notion that real forgiveness is the key to it all. If you can't see yourself happy to welcome your enemies, even one of them, into heaven (provided, of course that you're planning to go there), then you won't be there to welcome them at all.

    The Lord's prayer's, "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors" says it all, too. Now, as for loving them (wishing for them the good you wish for yourself), and praying for them (actually thanking the Lord for them, as Nikolai of Ochrid prays in his prayer, which I was quoting), I am not usually able to do that. In fact, in the natural man, I would continue to hate and oppose them. It's only in the spirit man that I am capable of doing such things.

    Sorry, Ben, if my words are too deep. The words in my last comment were not my own. When I do write, I am not aware that my words are too deep for others to understand. I guess I am like the guy in Bob Dylan's song, "It's Alright Ma, I'm Only Bleeding"…

    While one who sings with his tongue on fire
    Gargles in the rat race choir
    Bent out of shape from society's pliers
    Cares not to come up any higher
    But rather get you down in the hole
    That he's in.

    Yes, Ben, I'm really deep into it.

    By Blogger Ρωμανος ~ Romanós, at 11/16/2006 1:45 PM  

  • I would never be able to forgive him, or even think anything less of him than pure hate, and I doubt most people would, either. Any progress you make beyond that puts you nearer to Christ than most of the world, if you ask me.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11/16/2006 5:10 PM  

  • No, as horrible as a crime is, you simply have to give up hate. You must. There's really no choice. If you want to enter the heavenly Kingdom, where God is, and where everything is as it must be, you have to give up hate. And you have to forgive. Sorry for mentioning it. I hope I'm not too deep for anyone now. This is just the Bible, you know.

    I just paused and reread this, "either way the guy's scum."

    If the author of that line is a Christian, I forgive him or her. No one, not even Nero or Hitler, is scum to God. If He was willing to do everything possible (on His side) to save even the most depraved soul, then we cannot insult His love by calling anyone scum. This is just passionate talk. Christ came to free us from our passions. It's all in the Bible. Read it.

    By Blogger Ρωμανος ~ Romanós, at 11/17/2006 1:42 AM  

  • No, not a Christian, and I'm incredibly, deeply sorry to see that you won't forgive my "scum" remark because of it. I'm weeping over here.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11/17/2006 2:30 PM  

  • Sorry, Zhubin, I guess I didn't allow for the possibility that you were not a Christian. This was a semantic error, and unintentional.
    I forgive you too, for calling a human being "scum", and I ask your forgiveness for having to point all this out. It is not my intention to shame anyone, but merely to encourage my fellow humans to rise to the challenge of the call of Christ.

    By Blogger Ρωμανος ~ Romanós, at 11/17/2006 3:54 PM  

  • I think Romanos meant that he's (correctly) holding Christians to a very high standard and that calling people "scum" falls short of that standard.

    I don't think he meant to belittle those who do not share his faith.

    I am guessing that Zhubin and Romanos would vehemently disagree about how one should feel toward murderers. That's a discussion I would very much like to see and probably participate in. But I hope that miscommunication doesn't inject this dialogue with hostility.

    - Ben (from work where I can't log in to Blogger)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11/17/2006 4:37 PM  

  • Thanks, Ben, you hit the nail on the head. No harm meant, and no offense.

    By Blogger Ρωμανος ~ Romanós, at 11/17/2006 5:39 PM  

  • I actually don't think I would disagree with Romanos on the issue. And I apologize for my terse response. No hard feelings.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11/18/2006 2:54 AM  

  • Interesting blog posts. I never knew your blog was so deep. I wanted to make one comment (even though probably no one will read it)

    I struggle with forgiveness of things that have happened to me but something that gives me hope is the words of Joseph to his brothers who were going to kill him and instead sold him into slavery. He told his brothers what you meant for evil God meant for good. This is a very hard concept and I often struggle with it, but I really really think it is true. I know God has a plan and uses things in our lives to change us if we let Him.
    I think another thing that I am starting to realize is that we are all the same. We are all created by God. We all choose our own selfish desires at somepoint. Some have it easier, some have it harder but I believe we are all truly loved. Sometimes realizing we are all created by God and are all equal and all sinners helps me forgive.

    By Anonymous christy (ben's wife :), at 11/27/2006 1:20 PM  

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