So let’s talk about Jesus.
Specifically, let’s talk about Jesus’ command to “love your enemies.” This was what the Lord impressed upon my heart to talk about when I asked Him about today. It’s a hard command at all times, one which is impossible without God’s miracles in our souls, and for some reason it’s a command we often think doesn’t apply to political situations. We are ready to believe that Jesus forgave prostitutes and paralyzed men, but once the sinner has some measure of power – once we classify a sin as “injustice”, whether it’s domestic abuse, racist oppression, or some other injustice – we seem to think we’re obligated to condemn the perpetrator. In fact, loving one’s enemies is a rather scandalous concept because inevitably one faces the question “but don’t you know that what they did was WRONG?!”
And God’s answer is yes. The very concept of forgiveness implies that there was real moral wrong done. The other terms Jesus uses alongside the word “enemies” are “those who hate you” and “those who persecute you.” These are serious situations, not just disagreements where we can look the other way. And looking at Jesus’ own interactions, loving one’s enemies does not mean accepting everything they do. It does not necessarily mean agreeing with them, or even believing that their stance is OK. It doesn’t mean that there is no room for moral outrage. It does, however, mean believing that their identity as a fallen human beloved of God is a deeper, truer, more important identity any political, moral, or relational state in which they might be.
If we give in to hate, or if we think a certain political outcome is our highest good, we have already lost. Our ultimate reality is the eternal, and sometimes God uses earthly things that we would consider “losing” (or just very very bad outcomes) to do things that are very, very good: just look at the Cross.
Paul urged us to pray for “kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” Note that he didn’t say “against” leaders, even though political policies of his day frequently landed him in jail, and Roman emperors should probably win prizes for moral repugnancy. He said “for” them, and followed it up by saying “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all [people] to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim. 2:1-4) This brings to mind another, much older section of the Bible.
In the book of Daniel, we see a poster-child for causing political moral outrage, Nebuchadnezzar: a (literally) self-worshipping dictator whose policies caused the slaughter and/or displacement of entire nations. Again and again he encountered God through dreams and through the influence of several captured Judean advisors, but he repeatedly returned to his injustice and self-obsession. When Nebuchadnezzar remained unrepentantly arrogant, the Lord brought him into a long period of severe mental illness, a condition far too extreme (of the living-outside-and-braying-like-a-donkey variety) to hide from his country. After seven years of this, God restored his sanity and his throne. There was no way – or reason – to deny what had happened or to continue in the way he had been going, because there was no way or reason to deny God’s mercy to him. Nebuchadnezzar became a man who acknowledged God, and it affected everyone in his country.
This tells us something very important about God’s character and priorities. God’s purpose was not simply stopping a bad man or shaming an arrogant man. It was restoring a man He had created, and using that restored man to declare God’s glory to his society. It’s easy for us to see public figures as figures and not as people. It is easy to get caught up in the justice or injustice of what a person says and does, and celebrate or hate accordingly. But no matter how corrupt a politician is, no matter how much power he or she wields, that identity does not change or supersede the reality of being a soul that Jesus loves and died for. And no matter where we fall on the political spectrum, as Christians our citizenship is in Heaven. While we are to pray and work towards justice, our struggle is not and has never been against human beings, but against the evil that has sought to destroy human beings ever since Eden.
So let’s pray for our country. Let’s pray for each other. Let’s pray for leaders, and when applicable, our Nebuchadnezzar(s). If we find that we’re having a hard time loving our enemies, let’s pray for ourselves, trusting that God is faithful to do the impossible in our hearts. Pray for me, because it’s not natural for me either. We do not know what is ahead for our country, but we know that all of us need God’s mercy in our lives. We also know that God is infintely, beautifully, ridiculously merciful.