Is the First Response the Right Response?

John Hill

“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, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven…”  Matthew 5:43-44a

You can’t help but remember every single year.  You can’t escape the press, the memorials, and the sheer astonishment of it all.  Tomorrow marks the 11th anniversary of the tragic events that shocked America and the world on September 11, 2001; and each time that day is mentioned, an entire library of emotions is opened. People’s security in American invulnerability was shattered, the lives of loved ones were stolen, and a battle cry for justice and revenge reverberated throughout our land.  We all felt it.

Yet, even in the midst of the chaos, Americans of all ethnicities and backgrounds rallied around hundreds of men and women, mostly first responders at ground zero, who became heroes at a time when nothing else made any sense.  Thousands more responded in the coming days and weeks to provide help, support, and hope.  And millions flocked to churches to seek God and ask, “Why?”  In some ways, the responses were America at her best.

Once the dust settled, though, a reaction surfaced that has remained to this day.  For, if the first response during the tragedy and the days shortly thereafter was America at her best, the call to each of us to hate our enemies and to wish for their destruction is most assuredly us at our worst.  But it comes as no surprise because America, for all of her strengths, is not a Christian nation, so why would she respond any differently than those from the rest of the world?

Don’t misunderstand my query, I love America as much as the next person and would not want to live any other place save one: In the presence of my King Jesus Christ.  For that is where my ultimate allegiance lies. And according to Jesus’ own words in Matthew 5, my first response to hate those who hurt me, my family, or my country; and to call for their demise, is not the appropriate response of my King or His people.

Instead, Jesus calls on me to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

That is a heavy request that calls for me to go absolutely 180 degrees opposite of my instincts.  But that is the kind of radicalism that my Savior requires of me; and not only me, but His entire family of disciples.  Why?  According to Jesus, it is, “so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”  Basically, the family business of those who follow Jesus is repentance, restoration, and reconciliation; not war, hatred, and revenge. And while it is easy to join our culture in hating those who hate America and in some ways Christianity, true heroism is to disregard our first response and seek after a reaction to which Jesus calls us: one of love and prayer for the eyes of our enemies to be opened to the reality of a living and Holy God who desires to reconcile them to Himself and give them a new purpose and goal for life.

So what about you?  Are you ready to respond rightly to those who would be your enemy?  Jesus is in effect saying, “Love [terrorists, homosexuals, abortionists, politicians, ethnic groups, your boss, your in-laws, and anyone else you refer to as ‘those people’] and pray for [them]!”  So go ahead, make a list and start praying.  Start looking for opportunities to share an act of kindness.  Start brainstorming ways you can be a statement of the love of God in their life.  You may find that doing anything that rightly reflects your Savior may be infinitely more impacting than dropping a bomb, or passing a law could ever be in erasing your enemy.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.  Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

You want to respond to the events of 9-11 and the ensuing war on terrorism, or the political battle over a particular issue?  Then be a hero for someone and make your first response one that follows Jesus’ council by loving your enemies and praying for them.  You may be surprised to see what God will do.

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