“Our political opponents may be filling important needs in our lives, giving us scapegoats to blame, common enemies to unite over, and a simplified cause behind complex problems.” -Steve Rathje, Psychology Today.
One of the most challenging things Jesus ever taught was to love your enemies. In Matthew 5:43-44 he says “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”
One of the reasons this is so challenging is because if you have an enemy in your life, there’s usually a really good reason why you consider them an enemy. There must have been something that took place that caused that conflict and anger! The idea that we should somehow overlook those years of frustration and the pain they caused and start to love them and pray for them can feel so challenging.
Another reason why this is so hard is because from a psychological perspective, enemies actually play an important role in our lives. Common enemies help us feel a greater sense of control, they help us bond with one another, and they boost our self-esteem because we feel like we are better in comparison to the enemies we blame for everything that’s wrong.
There’s an article in Psychology Today that says when people start to feel like life is chaotic and out of control, it’s a whole lot easier to scapegoat one unfortunate soul that we blame for everything than accept the fact that sometimes bad things happen for no good reason. Our subconscious minds would rather believe there is one person who wants to do us major harm than live in a world where any number of random chance events could cause us minor harm at any moment.
The reason that’s true is because when we focus everything that is bad in our world on one person, one politician, one enemy, we feel like now the world is 99% good and safe, and all we have to worry about this one person who is pure evil. As long as we have our eyes fixed on them, we can protect ourselves and the world will be a safer place.
The key line from that article said “Instead of believing that bad things happen for no reason, enemies give us a sense of control, allowing us to attribute bad things to a clear cause that can be understood, contained, and controlled” (Steve Rathje, Psychology Today).
Most of the time, when I’ve stopped to think about all this, my heart has been burdened and weary and angry over the way that we are so willing to ignore the teaching of Jesus to love our enemies, and so quick to publicly and privately shame, humiliate, and vilify people that we consider enemies. We assign people we dislike the worst possible motives for their actions and assume the worst possible intentions, all the while giving ourselves a pass on our own behaviors that are not in line with the teachings of Jesus. But I also know that applies to me just as much as anyone else.
So going back to Jesus’ teaching, how can we ever hope to love our enemies when this type of attitude is so engrained in our culture, even within the culture of today’s church? The answer involves two changes in your perspective.
First, we need to recognize that we do have an enemy in this life. The Bible teaches us that there is an enemy out there whose sole purpose is to bring you harm and destruction. But the enemy the Bible talks about is not that person, that politician, that scapegoat you’ve been blaming.
1 Peter 5:8
“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”
When the Bible speaks about people we consider enemies, the Word of God calls us to love them, pray for them, and take care of them in their distress. And that’s because your enemy isn’t THE ENEMY. The true enemy is the devil who’s prowling around looking for someone to devour.
Second, we need to change our focus from the problem to the provider. Jesus never says worry about your problems, be obsessed with your enemies, and always sleep with one eye open. Jesus says do not worry, love your enemies, and trust in God. Hebrews 12 calls us to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.
When we focus on the problem, we’re relying in our own ability to overcome it. When we focus on the provider, we’re relying on God’s presence to be with us through ever obstacle we face.
I know that life can feel pretty chaotic sometimes. But today, I want you to invite you to stop seeking control by turning others into enemies, and to start seeking security by turning to the savior.