Read an Excerpt
Outrageous Claim #1
There's Freedom in Forgiving Your Enemies
Associated Press reporter Terry Anderson was held hostage in Lebanon for nearly seven years. He was chained to a wall in a filthy, spider-infested cell. He suffered through sickness. He endured mental torture. He longed for his family. He was ground down by the dull ache of incessant boredom.
Through it all, he was given one book the Bible and as he devoured it in a search for words of hope, he came across what appeared to be outrageous words of hopeless naïveté: "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy,'" Jesus told a crowd. "But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."
Can you imagine how outlandish that command must have seemed to Anderson after spending 2, 455 mind-numbing days in cruel captivity? Love whom? Pray for whom? Show kindness toward those who brutalized me? Exhibit compassion toward those who callously extended none to me? Is Jesus a cosmic comedian or merely a starry-eyed idealist?
Finally Anderson was released on December 4, 1991. Journalists clustered around and peppered him with questions. They wanted to know what his ordeal had been like. They wanted to know his plans for the future. But then one reporter called out the question that stopped Anderson in his tracks: "Can you forgive your captors?" What an easy question to pose in the abstract; what a profound issue to ponder honestly amid the grim reality of harsh injustice.
Anderson paused. Before the words of his response could come out of his mouth, the Lord's Prayer coursed through his mind: "Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us."
Then this victim of undeserved suffering spoke. "Yes," he replied, "as a Christian, I am required to forgive no matter how hard it may be."
Often it is hard. So hard, in fact, that Jesus' decree to love and pray for our opponents is regarded as one of the most breathtaking and gut-wrenching challenges of his entire Sermon on the Mount, a speech renowned for its outrageous claims. There was no record of any other spiritual leader ever having articulated such a clear-cut, unambiguous command for people to express compassion to those who are actively working against their best interests.
Jesus has done it again!
But wait. Hold on a moment. Maybe this command isn't so outlandish after all. Perhaps it's actually a prescription that benefits both those who forgive and those who are forgiven. Maybe there are a host of benefits that come with fostering an atmosphere of grace rather than an environment of maliciousness.
The truth is, God's wisdom works. Choosing to forgive instead of hate can turn out to be one of our greatest blessings in disguise if we understand how this extraordinary principle works.
The Rivals around Us
Love my enemies? I don't have any enemies do you? Nobody has ever shoved a machine gun under my chin and herded me into a dank cell for seven years. Nobody has ever brutalized me the way Terry Anderson was abused.
But even in the civilized United States, we do have enemies. They may not be armed terrorists, but to one degree or another we all have adversaries or opponents toward whom we feel animosity.
He may be the owner of a competing business who's stealing your best customers, and if you're honest, you'll admit that you hate him for putting your livelihood in jeopardy. She may be a colleague who's fighting against you all too successfully for bonuses and advancement. He may be the midlevel executive who's firmly entrenched above you in the corporate structure, and you resent him because he's blocking your way to the top.
If you're management, your adversary may be the union, or vice versa. Your enemy might be the people who hold opposing views on abortion or homosexuality, and you've gone beyond disagreeing with their opinions to despising them as people. It might be a teacher who refuses to cut you any slack. Or the girlfriend who broke your heart. Or the father who stunted your self-esteem. Or a former friend who broke your confidence and spilled your secrets to the world. Or the ex-spouse who trashed your marriage. Or the recalcitrant employee who just won't get on board with your policies. Or the classmate whose popularity eclipses yours. Or the colleague who is reaping all the recognition that you deserve.
When I was a journalist at the Chicago Tribune, I had plenty of enemies. They were reporters at the Sun-Times, the Daily News, and the various broadcast stations who would strive to beat me to stories. I felt intense malice toward them because in order for them to succeed, they had to cause me to fail. Even now that I'm a pastor although I'm terribly embarrassed to admit this I sometimes jealously view others as opponents if they are better received as speakers, writers, or leaders. Such can be the depth of my own sinful pettiness.
We all have rivals. In fact, let me press the issue further by asking you to get specific: Who are the adversaries in your life? What are their names? Actually bring one of their faces into your mind, because I don't want us to stay merely in the realm of the hypothetical. Let's talk about real people, real relationships, real conflict and the road toward real healing.
What's Love Got to Do with It?
Exactly what do you need to do about that person you've brought into your mind? It's too general just to say that you're supposed to love him or her. Should you stop competing with this individual? Should you become best buddies or golfing partners? Should you go on Caribbean cruises together? Should you treat him or her like a son or daughter?
Jesus was very precise in choosing a word for "love" that doesn't imply emotion as much as it suggests attitude and action. As difficult as it sounds, he's urging us to have a humble, servant demeanor toward people who are our adversaries. To look for the best in them and offer help as they need it. To have a sense of goodwill and benevolence toward them in spite of their lack of the same toward us. To pray for their welfare and the well-being of their families. Even though we may continue to compete with them, we are to do so fairly and respectfully, not maliciously as if we're trying to destroy them.