Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Loving Your Everyday Enemies

I'd like to compare two situations in life.

Situation #1: Drivers here in the Bay Area (pardon the impending pun) drive me crazy. They treat the highway like a stunt course. They dodge between cars like a pickpocket weaving through a crowd to evade the police. And, the one that really chafes my backside, they rarely signal when changing lanes. Those who know me to be a mild-mannered fellow may be surprised at my reactions: I swear at them; I question their intelligence and their parentage, and compare them to the less reputable parts of the human body; I have a strong desire to run them off the road and put them out of my misery. Some of you may be reading this nodding your heads and recalling similar feelings in yourselves. 

Situation #2: When Osama bin Laden was killed, part of me was glad that SOB had finally been taken out, but another part of me knew I ought not rejoice in another person's death. As a Christian I am compelled by the Lord's command to love my enemies, and difficult as it may be to will the good for someone who would have gladly killed me given the chance, I know I must do the right thing and pray that God have mercy on his soul.

Question: Where is all my noble benevolence in situation #1? Why do I not pray for my enemies as they're endangering my life on the road?

It seems much easier to be forgiving and compassionate (or at the very least to think you're being those things) toward an enemy who is far away, nearly mythic in stature, and already dead, than toward one who is nearby, ordinary, and still living. It seems much easier to conjure up an attitude of holiness in a grand situation than in the ordinary and everyday. But the ordinary and everyday situations are the ones we face most often. Our habits are formed by how we react to situations; those repeated reactions form the shape of our character. It's like a path or a trail developing by repeated usage, like ruts in the road caused by the wheels going over the same spots. If we react in ways that are of God, that are responses to His grace, we will form a heavenly character; if we do the opposite, we will form a hellish character. In a real way, our eternal destiny will be determined by how we react to the mundane happenings in life. So what good does it do me to say "I forgive you" of Saddam Hussein or Joseph Goebbels yet revile the lady in the grocery store who brings 17 items to the "15 items or fewer" line?

G.K. Chesterton put it well once, as he tended to put all things well: "The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people" (Illustrated London News - July 16, 1910). If I want my life to be such that it is Christ who lives in me (Galatians 2:20), I need to have a loving disposition when someone repeatedly sniffles instead of blowing his nose; when people say "ekkspecially" instead of "especially"; and yes, even when people change lanes without signalling. Even though that really, really bugs me.

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