And what of our enemies?
"It hurts so much" read the headline on cnn.com yesterday as I stopped by to catch up on the latest news regarding the mass shooting in Orlando. And I think that pretty much sums it up for most of us.
We’re a nation reeling in pain, and we all have our different ways of coping with the grief. Some try to name solutions, and lash out at those who disagree. Others post messages of sorrow, compassion, support. And then, there are the rest who aren’t sure what to say, because it seems nothing we could say would change anything.
I was in the latter until just now. After so many random acts of terror against unsuspecting civilians going about their daily lives, I just don’t know what to say anymore. It’s too overwhelming.
Then yesterday, one of my friends posted this on Facebook:
I figured the caption was probably talking about all of us Americans divided among ourselves, as we have so many differences that tend to get intensified in times of crisis as we point fingers and hurl the blame. But when I started thinking about whose eyes I would have the hardest time looking into and seeing God, it wasn’t anyone I disagree with on a political or philosophical level, but someone who would pull the trigger in a packed night club, murdering 49 people, and injuring 53.
I began to write the comment, “I have the most trouble seeing God in Omar Mateen. I have trouble seeing God in terrorists.”
But I never finished posting that comment, because as I wrote it, a certain scripture came to mind—the one that would end up being our Gospel reading for this morning.
Jesus said to his disciples:
“You have heard that it was said,
You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say to you, love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?
Do not the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet your brothers only,
what is unusual about that?
Do not the pagans do the same?
So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Jesus had very real enemies—ones who wanted him dead, and eventually got their way. So it occurred to me that He wasn't just saying to love those with political or philosophical differences, or those who give us a hard time at work. Not just those who write things that frustrate us on social media. He’s saying to love the people that would kill you if they could.
People like Omar Mateen, and others like him.
While I many never look at his pictures in the media and see God in his eyes, I do look at him and see that he was someone whom God loved into existence, and someone who chose evil instead of God's Love. I recognize that I was once an enemy of God in my own sin, until He loved me back to Himself. I see that the heart of God breaks for Mateen as much as it does for those he murdered. And when our hearts become like God’s, that is how they will break as well.
In the mix of heartfelt responses to the Orland tragedy, I see a lot of people saying that “Love is love.” However, Christ came to show us that God's Love is different. It's deeper, and bigger than our own. It's a Love that recognizes our only true enemy is evil itself. It knows well what Paul wrote to the Ephesians, that "our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens." (Ephesians 6:12) It's a Love that compels us to participate in the war against such evil through prayer, through worshiping the God that is Love, and through acts of charity and mercy that make Him tangible in our everyday lives.
Through God's Love, we learn to respond to evil the way Christ taught us. By loving those we like, and those who like us, yes. But by learning to love those who criticize us, and disagree with us. And even by loving those who would shoot us, or spit on us, and nail us to a cross if they could. Who do it when they can.
Because we did that to Christ, and He loved us anyway. And that was the Love that changed everything.