Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:44 to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. How, then, do we reconcile this command with what we see in the psalms of lament? Look at what a few of the psalmists prayed:
Arise, O Lord! Deliver me, O my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked (Psalm 3:7).
Let death take my enemies by surprise; let them go down alive to the grave, for evil finds lodging among them (Psalm 55:15).
In your unfailing love, silence my enemies; destroy all my foes, for I am your servant (Psalm 143:12).
O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us—he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks (Psalm 137:8, 9).
These are a far cry from Jesus’ words! I struggled with this for the longest time, trying to reconcile the two differing approaches, and then something happened that seemed to light a path toward clarity.
During church services one Sunday, I taught from the exact passage I quoted above, Matthew 5:44. If you had asked me as I was walking off the stage if the sermon was good, I would have told you that it was probably one of the best sermons I had ever delivered. I was passionate. I drew out the deeper points of the passage and gave inspiring examples of how to love our enemies.
I was confident that I had nailed it.
Then I walked into the hallway and was greeted by a man who asked me if I had a moment to talk. He pulled me over to the side, made a clenched fist and placed it over his mouth before he said, “Yesterday I pressed charges against a man in our neighborhood for molesting my son. How am I supposed to love that man?”
I didn’t know what to say. I stood there speechless. I thought back to my sermon and what it must have sounded like to him, sitting there and listening to me spout off pious platitudes. I hugged that man and prayed with him as forcefully and as passionately as I could.
My sermon had done a disservice to him. It was imbalanced. It wasn’t true to what we humans feel when we are wronged. I know that if something like that happened to one of my kids, I would have to be physically restrained from going after the perpetrator. This may not be what you want to hear from a pastor, but it’s the truth.
After hearing my friend’s story, these two seemingly irreconcilable passages came together for me. Maybe the reason the psalms of lament portray people praying for the destruction of their enemies is because we can’t love our enemies until God gives us the ability to love them. And maybe God can’t give us the ability to love our enemies until we’ve expressed to him, in specific detail, the full brunt of our rage and hatred for our enemies.
Maybe it’s not until we’ve pulled every last ounce of hatred out of our hearts and flung it onto the lap of God that we can authentically love our enemies. If I had the chance to talk to my friend all over again, I think this is what I would tell him.
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