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Enemy Loving


Quakers have been instrumental in setting up programs which offer people ways to constructively deal with anger and violence. A few Jesus Christian articles mirror these efforts.

"He that would have friends, must first show himself to be friendly." Proverbs 18:24

Loving our enemies is not as unselfish as it sounds. It really is a discipline which reaps temporal (as well as eternal) rewards. I'll explain.

If we were to make a list of people whom we regard as our enemies (whether by our choice or by their choice), most of us would have to include some former friends on the list. So there must be a process by which someone on one side of the see-saw can slide over to the other side.

Unless we study that process closely and find a way to reverse it (i.e. to bring enemies back over to our side), we are likely to find our circle of friends growing smaller and smaller, with more and more people sliding down the see-saw to the 'enemy' end. If this continues, we will soon be all alone, with no one but ourselves for company, and even that may not be very good company.

One of the most common ways that friends become enemies is that, first, we recognise something in them that we don't like. Very often, after we have noticed it, it seems to get worse. A little bit of criticism is considered reasonable, even amongst friends, and so we usually point out the problem. But there is no clear cut-off on what is reasonable and what is unreasonable. Unless we consciously make an effort to limit and reduce criticism, our criticisms will steadily tip the see-saw in favour of people becoming our enemies.

But if we set out to consciously love our enemies, we can actually reverse the process. We do it by looking for and concentrating on the good in everyone (whether or not they are on the 'enemy' list).

Experience tells us that there is no point in criticising some enemies, because they are not going to accept it anyway. But (at the very least) if we can't say or do something nice for our enemies, we should probably not say or do anything bad either. That can at least halt the slide away from us. Of course, if we can say and do nice things to and for our enemies, there is a slight chance that we could actually begin to tip the see-saw back in our favour.

There is a Quaker saying that there is "that of God" in everyone. It is based on the teaching of Jesus which said that "inasmuch as you love the least of these, my brothers, you love me." The emphasis is on the least. If we can work at loving our worst enemies, we will find that the exercise at least helps us to love our friends and casual acquaintances, and even some of our milder enemies much more easily. So, if nothing else, enemy loving is good training for loving our friends.

Recognising "that of God" in people does not mean that there is not "that of the devil" in them as well. But that is true of all of us, including our best friends and including ourselves. For ourselves, it may be helpful to work on overcoming that of the devil. But for others we should work at nurturing that of God in them.

We do not have to justify evil, or become amoral in order to appreciate the good that is in other people. However, by loving them, we may discover that the differences are not as black and white as we had earlier imagined. Understanding that Hitlers and Scrooges and satanists and child abusers may also be products of unhappy childhoods does not make their behaviour right; but it does give us greater hope of being able to actually help them to change. For we will change people more through understanding than we will through condemnation.

It is our very recognition of friends as friends that makes them want to do things that we approve of. And when we start treating enemies that way as well, they may begin to move closer to our end of the see-saw. They'll still have their faults, but as we love them, those faults will not only grow smaller in our estimation, but they will generally grow smaller in reality as well.

And before you know it, you will find yourself surrounded by genuine friends.

Wouldn't that be nice?

(See also Divine Love.)

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