Learning to Love My Enemies
Participating in a counseling conference a few months after my son's death, I heard the words, "Make room for the wrath of God. Don't try to play God." I was completely caught off guard by the intensity of emotions that had been yanked to the surface. Immediately those words tapped into a roar of anger inside of me that I did not realize was there. It was the heat and fluster of self-righteousness anger, and I desperately wanted to act on it.
The conference speakers faded away at that moment as I became consumed by the object of my hatred. As I came to my senses I turned my focus and anger toward God. But Lord, they don't even seem to have an idea of how much harm they did emotionally and physically. They get to go on with their lives while I have to live with this aching absence. Without punishment, they can still abuse others. You keep letting them go on without consequences. Why God? Why? The root of my anger had been revealed, and God let me sit in silence with my thoughts. It wasn't long before I recognized my core belief: God was not dealing with the injustice in my life the way I thought he should, and I didn't like it.
The core belief I clung to needed to change in order to make room for God's justice. I was being asked to give up the desire to retaliate against my enemy, and it was a struggle to do so. You see, it didn't seem possible that God could be as angry as I was about the injustice inflicted by multiple parties. Jonathan's spirit had been broken, and I did not believe God would punish those who were responsible. Still, it was imperative to believe God could deal with the unjust situation far better than me.
At moments, I feel the deep freedom of forgiveness and am moved with compassion for the brokenness of my enemies. But to be honest, those times are few and far between. I stew about it, I dwell too much on it, and I plot, trying to do God's job of seeking justice. The Apostle Paul, in Romans 12:19, cautions us against this: "Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous wrath of God. For the Scriptures say, 'I will take revenge; I will pay them back,' says the Lord." Yet I want revenge! And even if I don't actually act on that desire, it is still very destructive. I don't sleep, I snap at my family, and I don't see the good things God is doing. A valley develops between God and me when I give room for anger to grow and bitterness to flourish. What's worse, I forget the gift of God's grace, that through Jesus, my sins are forgiven, even when I deserve his wrath instead.
My job is to love the Lord God with all my heart and to love my neighbor as myself. (Mark 12:30-31) God calls me to extend grace, and pray for those whom God puts in my path, even the ones I deem undeserving. This is the best way to display his glory and accept his goodness to me. Thank you, Lord, for not treating me like my sins deserve.
FOR FURTHER THOUGHT
It is wonderful to desire a God who is loving, gracious, and kind to us, but when he extends the same love and hospitality to those who hurt us, how are we expected to respond? In the Bible, God extends grace to a people that the prophet Jonah wanted to see condemned. "The people of Nineveh had been persecuting Jews, and God sent Jonah to tell them of God's impending doom on them. Jonah did as God asked, but instead, God spared them because the people turned back to him. To Jonah, this seemed very wrong, and he became angry at God. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love; a God who relents from sending calamity." (Jonah 4:1-3, NIV).
From Jonah's story, it is clear to see the character of God, and our character is illuminated when we try to take over God's wrath.
slow to anger
abounding in love
relents from judgment
offers us grace when we are undeserving
an obstacle to grace
Do you notice any repetition of old hurts in which you cling? Do you try to convince others to join you in judging a perceived enemy? Can you begin praying for the Lord to bless an enemy? How about imagining them in the glow of God's presence? If not, try asking God to open your eyes to his love for you. Recognizing how much God has forgiven me, makes it much easier for me to catch any angry thoughts and hand them over to God, who is the One who tempers his justice with grace and mercy.
Lord, you have shown me mercy, and I thank you. Though my feelings betray me, help me to first walk in your obedience to love my neighbor as myself. So too, help me abound in love as you are extravagant with love. Amen.
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