What to do to an enemy
My dictionary defines “enemy” as “one who hates or bears ill will toward another.”
I wish that I could say that I have never felt that way toward anyone. Or I wish that I could say that all such feelings of animosity or antagonism toward others were in the past in my life. I wish that I could say that I have moved beyond such feelings. Unfortunately, I still struggle with angry reactions toward others when I feel hurt by them. I still find myself harboring ill will toward those who have caused me pain.
What is a good Christian to do in such circumstances?
I find some initial hope in Paul’s words in Romans 12:20: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
This verse fills me with initial hope because I like the idea of heaping burning coals on my enemy’s head! If doing nice things for my enemy causes such pain, then I am all for it! This strategy will satisfy my ill will toward the person.
Sadly, though, when I explore what this verse actually means, I discover something else. In his book, The Peacemaker, Ken Sandee points out,
“Paul’s reference to ‘burning coals on his head’ indicates the irresistible power of deliberate, focused love. Ancient armies often used burning coals to fend off attackers. No soldier could resist this weapon for long; it would eventually overcome even the most determined attacker. Love has the same irresistible power. At the very least, actively loving an enemy will protect you from being spiritually defeated by anger, bitterness, and thirst for revenge. And, in some cases, your active and determined love for your opponent may be used by God to bring that person to repentance.”
Disappointingly, according to Sandee, the true goal of doing good to my enemies is not to inflict pain on them simply for the sake of pain but to bring about their surrender. That’s disappointing enough as it is, but then he makes it even worse by stressing, “At the very least, actively loving an enemy will protect you (me!) from being spiritually defeated by anger, bitterness, and thirst for revenge.”
According to Sandee (and apparently according to Scripture), doing good to my enemy might win my enemy over; most importantly, though, it will protect me from the anger and bitterness that would turn my soul ugly. What this challenges me to do is to exercise kindness toward my enemies for the sake of what it might do for them (or for the healing of our relationship) and for what it will do for me (for the health of my soul).
On the personal level, I am challenged by something Marcus Aurelius said, “The true worth of a man [and of a woman] is to be measured by the object he pursues.” If I pursue vengeance, that will shape my soul toward bitterness. If I pursue kindness, that will shape my soul in Christ’s likeness.
I am also challenged by the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.: “The ultimate weakness of violence [or vengeance] is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it…. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, 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.”