Love Thine Enemy

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy; but I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father, which is in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

— Matthew 5:43-48

If anyone say, “Do not make such vague distinctions. Look at that person. Can you deny he is unlovely? How then can you love him?” I answer, “That person, with the evil thing cast out of him, will be his real self. The thing that now makes you dislike him is separable from him, is therefore not he; it makes himself so much less himself, for it is working death in him. Now he is in danger of ceasing to be a person at all. Begin to love him now and help him into the loveliness which is his.”

But those who will not acknowledge the claim of love, may yet acknowledge the claim of justice. There are those who would shrink with horror from the idea of doing injustice to some of their neighbors, yet would shrink with equal horror from the idea of loving them. But it is impossible to be just without love, and much more cannot justice co-exist with hate. It is hard enough to be just to our friends; how shall our enemies fare with us? For man is not made for justice from his fellows, but for love, which is greater than justice. Mere justice is an impossibility, a fiction of analysis. It does not exist between man and man, save relative to human law. Love is the law of our condition, without which we can no more render justice than a man can keep a straight line walking in the dark. The eye is not single, and the body is not full of light. No man who is even indifferent to his brother can recognize the claim which the man’s humanity has upon him. Nay, the very indifference itself is an injustice. 

Commentary

by Jess Lederman

In the second paragraph of today's entry, MacDonald touches on a theme which he would develop--breathtakingly!--at length in the great Unspoken Sermon, Justice, published twenty-two years after Love Thine Enemy. The Apostle John's words, God is love, have been so oft repeated that they can seem trite and shorn of real meaning, as though the Beloved Disciple were some sort of aging hippie, hanging out on Patmos and flashing the peace sign. However, if we take his words as a profound statement of Truth, then all of His other attributes must be manifestations of Love.

If you then work through the implications of this, as the Scotsman did, other truths emerge. God's justice is not opposed to his mercy; they are two sides of the same coin. If, being just, he punishes, that punishment itself is merciful, for, rather than being merely retributive, it is exactly what the sinner needs.

Our job is to imitate Jesus, to be perfect, even as our Father in Heaven. Therefore, we cannot be just unless our justice, too, is a manifestation of love. Does this mean our justice will be weak, enabling sinners to go on sinning? Not at all, for that would be unjust to them!

If "justice" can be defined as "the setting of things right," then the ultimate outcome of justice is a sinner's repentance--not merely a "feeling sorry," but a true turning away from sin. If that is accomplished without punishing the sinner, is the justice somehow incomplete? Does justice demand some retributive element, without which it is not just? Often enough, the victims cry out for retribution; but perhaps it is for just this reason that God said vengeance is His; perhaps His vengeance is higher and better, more perfect than ours.

I respect both sides of the argument; however, consider the following. If you're like me, there are sins in your past which, even to think of, cause you stabs of pain. Now, imagine the worst man of whom you've ever heard, and imagine that he finds God--or God finds him!--and he repents. The monstrousness of his past sins is now clear to him. Can you imagine a worse punishment than that?

I'm reminded of the true story of a neo-Nazi who lived in the Western U.S. twenty or thirty years ago, and for years spewed out virulent, violent, hateful, anti-Semitic tracts. Eventually, he grew old, penniless, and blind, and a Jewish couple who heard of him took him into their home and showed him love. He lived out his years with them, and, repenting of his past life, loved them in return.

Thus was Justice done.