Having started thinking about having ‘foes’ or ‘enemies’, some more things have occurred to me. Here is the confession for this week. I heard myself saying ‘You know, I don’t think that I have ‘integrated’ the idea of actually ‘having’ ‘enemies’ or ‘foes’.
Now the idea of ‘integrating’ something is interesting. It is like coming to a new country. The traffic lights, for example, are in different places, and I hardly knew where to look, to know when I could go straight on, or not turn right and so on. So I complained bitterly! Then after a while, I ‘integrated’ the Swiss system of traffic signals. That is, the new information became a part of ‘me’. I ‘accepted into myself’ the new state of affairs (well in this case, I could hardly ‘reject’ it!). But that is what ‘integration’ is like. Something that at first is ‘not me’ becomes ‘me’.
So this is what I think I was doing, for nearly all my life, about the idea of having enemies. I was rejecting it!
Now the psalms are full of people talking about their enemies and their betrayal by them. They look for the ‘downfall’ of their enemies, or ask God to deal with them. But no where in the psalms can I find anyone complaining about the fact that people actually have enemies.
When I read the psalms, I was sort of saying the same things about my ‘foes’ but really, I was very sad at actually having them. So my use of the psalms was to give expression to my sadness, not to work out what the best thing to do with my ‘enemies’ was!
And in politics, there is a saying “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer!’ This is so that you know what they are up to. But I could never do this either! The pain or sadness of actually having people who were or are my enemies is too great to be even around them. The only people who can ‘Keep their friends close, and their enemies closer’ are those people who do not really mind, or are not ‘self accusing’ just because there are enemies.
I am thinking that good generals do this. They study their foes, because knowing your enemy is integral to warfare. Generals must have integrated the idea of having foes long before they actually get into battle. Enemies are not for hating, but for knowing.
I also hear people saying “ I don’t come to church to have all this politics’, I don’t like it” Behind this is the idea that Church people should always be nice to each other, and always treat each other well. When there are signs of this not happening, this contradicts the ‘should’ of Church life, and so the person rejects it. This is for me another example of people’s ‘rejecting’ the actual idea of having enemies, or disagreements at all. This is unrealistic for any human organisation. But when people say “I don’t like the fact of having enemies in Church, so I won’t go”, or I ‘don’t come to church for this’ it is perhaps a sign that I am not alone in not having ‘integrated’ the idea of having foes, even from within the Church community.
So if I am beginning to integrate the idea of having enemies what does that mean for me as a Christian?
In a sense there is relief. One of the hardest times for me is to go into Church on a Sunday morning, and to have to preach the Good News of Jesus, knowing that there are people who are scoffing at me. Because of this, the experience of Sunday takes a couple of days to get over. But if I integrate that there are ‘foes’ and as psalm 1 says that there are ‘those who sit in the seat of the scoffers’ then I can imagine myself saying as I go into Church “Good morning foes!” The humour of it would change a lot.
But there remains the question of what it means to love my foes or enemies. Thinking about the generals, if they do not ‘love their enemies’ to some degree, then they will not study them enough to know how to defeat them. Thinking about what it is to ‘hate one’s enemies’ puts me in mind of the same situation as ‘rejecting ‘ the traffic lights in Switzerland. I can ‘hater’ them all I like, but in the long run, I have to learn to ‘love them’ so that I can get to know the Swiss traffic light system well enough to drive safely.
Sometimes I apply this to behaviour of mine that accuses me. I n prayer, I ask this behaviour to ‘Speak to me’ to ‘Tell me what it is you are trying to do.’ This is a way of attempting to integrate an ‘enemy’ by inviting them to speak to me so that I love them, rather than reject them.
To continue to ‘reject’ an enemy is to let them have more power than they deserve, because they continue to operate in secret, exercising as much influence as before. It is not to say that the ‘foe’ is no longer opposed to my best sense of self, or opposed to the values or direction that I want to go in. It is just that now the fact that not everyone is in agreement is no longer a cause for accusation.
So loving my enemies does not mean not having them. It can mean, I hope, being relieved of the self accusation that comes simply from the awareness that I can’t please everyone.