Following Jesus

Those on the Other Side

July 29, 2020 by

Jesus said it: “Love your enemies.” But loving those we deem to be on “the other side,” those who oppose my beliefs, can be excruciatingly difficult. There is no “How to” formula, and oddly enough it doesn’t always “work.” Moreover, the moment we presume to have love for the enemy, we better watch out! For whenever we make a false pretense of loving our enemies, the acid of our unredeemed selves bubbles up. Unless we can admit that we too are enemies – of God, of each other, and of ourselves – we will every time erect a barricade between “us” and “them.” In The Fifth Son, novelist Elie Wiesel illustrates this point in a story:

[A certain great rabbi] interceded with God in favor of an innkeeper who was notorious for his many sins. “Very well, I forgive him,” said the Almighty. Whereupon, pleased with his success, the rabbi began to look for other sinners to defend in heaven. Only this time he could not make himself heard. Overcome with remorse, the rabbi fasted six times for six days and asked heaven the reason for his disgrace. “You were wrong to look for sinners,” a celestial voice told him. “If God chooses to look away, you should do the same.”[1]

lilyArtwork by Christine Nelson

A number of years ago I was invited to speak about God’s vision for community at a college in California. My address was followed by an open invitation luncheon, which I had hoped would lead to an in-depth dialogue with faculty and students. It turned out quite differently. One person turned up with the express intention, it seemed, of derailing the discussion. Everything I tried to share about life in community, he ridiculed – openly and derisively. The whole luncheon was a fiasco and ended awkwardly. I could feel the anger inside me building up.

But instead of it rising to the boiling point, and instead of struggling hypocritically to conceal my anger and frustration, God helped me to look into this brother’s wearied eyes and see beyond his belligerence. Here was a hurting soul, eaten up by bitterness, a man, in the words of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, “departing downward from humanity.” By God’s grace, my initial anger melted, turning to tears of compassion. Over the years, I have learned of my own capacity to be like this very man, of hurting or dismissing people through callous remarks or acts of selfishness. How fine the line between this man’s overt aggression and my own more subtle daily aggressions.

Love is not an act of superior generosity or being on the right side, but a humble recognition that we are no different from the one with whom we happen to be in conflict.To create a more peaceful world is not so much a matter of doing something as discovering something. This is why Jesus said, “Love your enemies.” Love is not an act of superior generosity or being on the right side, but a humble recognition that we are no different from the one with whom we happen to be in conflict. The recognition that we are all sinners and traitors struggling to find and do good erases barriers. “Our fears,” writes Henri Nouwen, “make us divide the world between people who are for us and people who are against us, people to love and people to hate, friends and enemies.” As Nouwen explains, these dichotomies are an illusion:

Loving our enemy thus compels us to unmask this illusion by acting according to the knowledge that God loves all human persons – regardless of their sex, religion, race, color, nationality, age, or intelligence – with the same bold, unconditional love. The distinction between friends and enemies is made by us fearful people, not by our loving God.[2]

To further peace in this world, therefore, involves a deliberate endeavor of self-denial and spiritual discipline that tears down the walls that exist inside us. It demands that we recognize the hostile, autonomous demons inside ourselves, the very ones that put Jesus on the cross.

In a world full of vitriol, polemics, and hostility, to be a peacemaker demands more of us than refusing to take up arms, refusing to be in the fray, or refusing to get into heated arguments. In Oscar Romero’s words, it means undergoing “the violence of love.” This chastening “is the violence we must each do to ourselves to overcome our selfishness and the cruel inequalities among us.” When we honestly try to love those who cause us to react negatively it is like fire, burning the flesh, consuming the crud of unforgiveness that hides in the nooks and crannies of our denial, and vanquishing everything in us that leads to strife.

When there is hope, there is always a chance for a more peaceful world.When this happens we can have hope in and for the “other” – and when there is hope, there is always a chance for a more peaceful world. For whoever our enemies are – whether they are personal or “out there” – they are always more than their hatred and more than what they say and do. They, like us, are weak, fallible, and broken human beings who battle fear and are in need of healing and hope. They are not just what they project themselves to be, nor are they any more beyond redemption than we are. They are as desperate for love and justice and peace and belonging as we are.

By stepping toward them as God has stepped towards us, even if our gestures are feeble and misunderstood, we can realize this world does not have to be configured in terms of “us” versus “them.” We can also realize a greater peace inside ourselves. And that is not a bad place to start. Greater still, we may even be able to learn to walk with those on the “other side” through life, side-by-side if not hand-in-hand.

Excerpted from, Peace Matters: Nonviolence for Skeptics, Charles E. Moore

[1] Elie Wiesel, The Fifth Son (New York, NY: Schoken Books, 1985), 33.

[2] Nouwen, Seeds of Hope, pp. 238-239.


About the author

Charles E. Moore

Charles E. Moore

Charles E. Moore and his wife Leslie live in Denver, CO, where they form a small house community with friends and visitors...

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