From the President

Loving Our Enemies: A Reflection on Judgment and Mercy

Sep 15 2015

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:12–13 (NIV)

It is a difficult time for many people who believe that their way of life and their beliefs are under attack from many sides. Issues of terrorism, immigration, instability in financial markets along with moral and social upheaval trouble many people today including Christians. While these can be considered as grave dangers to our way of life, the way in which we respond is even more critical. It is easy to slip into an adversarial attitude of “Us Versus Them” and longingly look forward to the judgment of God to set things right. The Old Testament is full of examples of appeals to God to “avenge his faithful servants.”

But God is a God of mercy and forgiveness and he has always been a God of mercy and forgiveness. Jonah knew this about God and became angry when the people of Nineveh responded to his message and repented of their sins and God forgave them. To Jonah’s way of thinking, the people of Nineveh were evil and so they deserved punishment rather than mercy because God’s people should be an exclusive lot. Jonathan Swift wrote some verse which sums up this frame of mind:

We are God’s chosen few,
All others will be damned;
There is no place in heaven for you,
We can’t have heaven crammed. 

When we feel as though we are under assault, it is easy to slip into a mindset that desires judgment over mercy, perhaps because of self-righteousness and vindication, but Jesus taught us a new way of thinking and living:  “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven” Matthew 5:43–45 (NLT). There has been a bumper sticker in circulation for some time that says, “When Jesus said, love your enemies, I’m pretty sure he didn’t mean kill them.” When confronted with evil people it is natural to seek judgment and retribution, but it is supernatural to love our enemies and to be “ministers of reconciliation.”

To be a follower of Jesus means that our attitudes and desires should be like his. “…He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent” 2 Peter 3:9 (NLT). We should ask ourselves this question, “Do we really want everyone to repent and be saved?” If we cannot honestly answer yes to that question it is an indication that we have a mercy deficiency. It is a dangerous thing to long for and anticipate God’s judgment upon our enemies. That may have been the prevailing attitude until Jesus came, but he rejected it and replaced it with the law of love even to the point of telling us that our relationship with him is dependent upon how we love others along with our willingness to be merciful. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” Matthew 5:7 (NIV)

 The command of Jesus to “love our enemies” can be very difficult to accept especially in the light of evil, injustice and other atrocities, but he did not tell us to love our enemies only until they crossed a threshold beyond redemption. We are to be people of mercy because as James says, “Mercy triumphs over judgment.” However, this can only occur in our lives as we embrace the mercy and love that has been shown to us to overcome our fear. “Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. We love each other because he loved us first.” 1 John 4:18–19 (NLT)

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