Second-rate murder mysteries are common fare on television. Typically, a police investigation takes place after the crime. A usual scenario has detectives going to the home of the victim to ask questions and gather information. Sitting in the living room with the victim’s family members, the police begin trying to gather a list of suspects. Inevitably, they ask, “Did he have any enemies?”
How about you? Do you have any enemies? I suspect most of us will quickly insist that we don’t have an enemy in the world. Maybe we don’t. But I’ll bet if we think about it for a few minutes, we might be able to come up with a list. A co-worker who doesn’t hesitate to step over the bodies of colleagues in order to get a promotion. An uncaring neighbor whose cat continually walks on your freshly-washed car. One of your children’s teachers who seems to have it out for your son or daughter, ridiculing him or her in class and giving grades you think are lower than deserved. Perhaps a brother or sister who has taken advantage of you or lied about you and turned others against you.
An enemy isn’t necessarily someone who wants to kill you or someone you want to kill. But it usually is someone who has hurt you or those you love, and you feel that person should be punished. And so those who have snubbed us, we snub in return. To those who have gossiped against us, we tend to repay the favor. The worse the offense, the more alienated we are from them and the more we want to strike back. So if someone kills our son or daughter… Well, you probably have some idea how you’d feel and what you’d feel like doing. I do.
Have you ever thought of God as being one of your enemies? Perhaps on some bad days you have. One of our church members told me the joke about the fellow who had one thing after another go wrong in his life. He cried out to heaven, “God, why me?” Rumbling from the sky above, a voice answered, “Some people just tick me off.” That’s not exactly what I’m talking about. I don’t happen to believe that God takes capricious pot shots at us from the realms of glory.
But, in fact, the Bible does refer to us as enemies of God. We are enemies because in a variety of ways we have attacked the goodness that God wants for all creation. We have tried to make ourselves masters of the universe rather than living as creatures of a Creator. I’m not just talking about the Hitlers and Stalins of the world. Every time we’ve chosen a lie over the truth or selfishness over generosity or harshness over tenderness, or apathy over compassion, we have struck a blow against the good with which God intends to fill everything that exists. That makes us enemies of God.
Most of us don’t take the bad things we’ve done very seriously. We know we’re not perfect, but we’re not that bad. The fact is that we are incapable of evaluating our own evil with any accuracy. We see greed, insensitivity and pride in other people and nations. We are aware of oppression taking place in some lands. We know there are companies that put profits above concern for the environment or the welfare of employees. Sometimes we see the harm such evil produces. But we tend to minimize our own evil. We forget that a devastating epidemic is not started by a big hulking monster whose ugliness all can see from the beginning. The naked eye can’t see the microbe that leads to the death of thousands. So it is with our evil. The “little” lie, the catty comment, the compassion fatigue that stops us from helping the disadvantaged as we could, all work against God’s will and world in ways unseen to our eyes. But God’s eye sees the destruction. Only on exceptional occasions do we catch a glimpse.
I remember an old episode of M*A*S*H about a young Air Force officer who had a minor wound that brought him to the field hospital. He was an extremely pleasant fellow. Everyone liked him. He was helpful and caring, tender and humorous. While with the M*A*S*H unit, he got to see up close the devastation of the Korean War. He was especially moved by the children he saw that had been terribly wounded, some missing arms or legs.
He asked how such horrible things could happen to children. The doctors told him that the children had been hurt when bombs from American planes were dropped near their village. The light-hearted and pleasant soldier began to sob because he flew bombers but had never seen up close the effects of his actions. We, too, are unaware of the wounds we inflict in this world when we fail to obey God. The harm brought about by our sin is often hidden from our eyes so we minimize the seriousness of our deeds.
Our sin is not primarily against other creatures, but against the Creator. Whether we acknowledge it or not, when we turn from the guidance of God, we strike a blow against Heaven. When we do not follow the will of God, we say, in essence, that our wisdom is greater than that of the Lord of all. We trust ourselves more than we trust the One who made us. For that we are enemies of God, according to the scriptures.
What should be done with enemies? What do we normally do with ours? We avoid them. Ignore them. Criticize them. Maybe sue them in court. And in extreme cases, as in a war, we may kill them. What does God do with enemies, with us who have resisted and rebelled against true goodness, us who have been at war against God’s way? The great church reformer, Martin Luther said, “If I were God and the world treated me as it has treated God, I would kick the wretched world to pieces.” Fortunately God does not act like us.
We can scan the Bible and read of God evicting the primordial pair from paradise for their sin. We can read of the flood of the wicked ancient world, the story of the destruction of the sinful cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, the Babylonian captivity of God’s chosen but rebellious people, and the list goes on. But the final and decisive response of God to enemies is not seen in any of these episodes. No, we have to look elsewhere. We must look to Jesus Christ. In Him alone we find God’s tactics with enemies for the present age. The apostle Paul put it like this: “God shows love to us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we are now justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.”
Instead of striking out against enemies, Christ endured the blows, the brutality, the cross in order to reach out in nonviolent love. Though God had and has superior power, in the cross God acted in supreme love to make peace with those — with us — who have been at war against the divine. “While we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son.” Peace with God is not ours because we have proven ourselves so worthy but because in the face of human evil, God in Christ proved to be so good, not demanding justice but giving mercy.
What does this have to do with the way we are to live our lives? We are to be a people of the cross. Our lives are to be shaped by the nonviolent love of God that we have received. Nowhere in the Bible are we told to model our lives by how God dealt with evil in Sodom and Gomorrah. But repeatedly we are told to imitate Christ. To be holy as He was holy, (1 Peter 1:16), to forgive as He forgave, (Ephesians 4:32), to love as He loved (1 John 4:7-11). The sign of the cross is to be imprinted in our daily existence. The God-given means of our salvation is to be the pattern of our lives with our friends and with our enemies.
The Rev. Martin Niemoller was one of the first in the church to resist nonviolently Hitler’s Nazis. In 1937, he was arrested and imprisoned. Finally, he ended up in the Dachau concentration camp where he was held until the end of World War II. Years later, he reflected back on his time in Dachau and explained the struggle of faith he endured. Just outside of his cell window stood a gallows. He couldn’t avoid seeing it when he looked out the window. Often, he would pray for those who met their death at the end of the rope.
Niemoller said that the gallows confronted him with a two-pronged question. He imagined the gallows asking him, “What will happen to you when they put you up on the little stool and they slide the rope around your neck? Will you, then, with your last breath and strength, cry out curses and threaten them with God’s punishment, boasting of your vindication?” In that question the imprisoned man was faced with a tempting option. How satisfying it is to lash out at those who are in the wrong.
But there was another question that the gallows put to him. “What do you think would have happened if Jesus, when he was nailed to the cross, his gallows, died cursing his enemies and murderers, calling God’s vengeance down upon their heads?” The answer, said Niemoller, was that nothing would have happened. Nothing would have happened for the triumph of good over evil. Nothing would have happened to vanquish the power of law, sin and death. Nothing would have happened for the salvation of the world. Jesus would have lost to the temptation to hate and would have destroyed His loving work for the world. At that point, and only at that point would His enemies have truly gotten rid of Jesus. “Thank God that he died a different way,” rejoiced Niemoller, “not cursing his murderers, but praying on their behalf, Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.’ They could not get rid of him for he held on and kept them in his forgiving love.”
We need to realize that our actions in this violent and unjust world must not become detached from what God has done in Christ to make peace with us, God’s enemies. Otherwise we may end up helping get rid of Jesus. Or as another Christian leader, Jurgen Moltmann, has asked, “How can we, grasped by the outstretched arms of the suffering God upon the cross, clinch our fists?” Indeed, how can we, if He is our peace?

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