“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, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” — Jesus
Today marks the thirteenth anniversary of the attacks of September 11th, 2001. I remember exactly where I was when I found out: walking into US History class, if you believe me. While this blog mainly focuses on European affairs, I would be amiss to neglect the importance of this day for our modern world. September 11th opened the 21st century; what had the promise to be a century of peace has quickly become in the subsequent years one of wars and unrest. they attack; we attack back. We attack preemptively to defend ourselves against “real and present” dangers. But in doing this, have we departed completely from Jesus’s challenge to those who would follow him: love your enemies? What would happen if love speaks a softer word to our world?
The world has not seen more peace than war these last thirteen years. We’ve been plunged into conflict after conflict, from proxy wars to regime changes, and there does not seem to be a slowing of our ability or willingness to fight one another. To use the metaphor of speaking, we have no spoken with love, but we have spoken out of fear. Instead of pausing and reflecting on the why of the terrorists’ attack thirteen years ago, we proclaimed, “They hate us. They hate freedom.” Using this to justify retaliation instead of reflection, the sands of the Middle East again turned red. I am not saying that this was entirely or completely wrong. I am saying that it did not do much to promote or secure peace around the world.
Can you forgive a national enemy, or must it be a personal enemy, a single person that has wronged you, that is forgiveable? If it were only the personal enemy, then that would end our discussion, but nations have histories, and in these histories, enemies can become friends, and peace can be brokered into a lasting friendship. The examples in Europe are numerous, and the United States and the United Kingdom share a “special relationship” that was birthed in war. Peace and forgiveness is possible between national enemies, as long as both sides are open to it and to understanding what the other has to say.
I don’t know if the Taliban or al-Queda would be open to conversation. In fact, I don’t think they would have been in 2001, although they are some gestures towards that now, at least from the remnants of the Taliban. But Jesus command does not wait for us to catch up with it. It is an imperative. Pray for your enemies, not just your troops. Pray for those who persecute, who seek to kill you and take your freedom. To return to our metaphor, in other words, to let love speak.
To pray, to be open, to your enemy, is precisely to change your mind about him or her. Their status as enemy comes into question. This is when love speaks. The words of love are the words of welcome, the words of hospitality, the words that bring my worldview into question and open me up to conversation. The conversation may be theological, political, social, economic, or personal, but it is one in which I join as an equal participant. When love speaks, things can change, but we are opening ourselves to change.
This is what speaking love does, most of all. It wounds us, opening us to the other. Love must suffer, in order to be love. It is a suffering, an undergoing of a trauma, because I am no longer sufficient on my own. To speak love, I must suffer. And in a world when there has been so much suffering, we avoid it at all costs. When confronted by it through horrific acts of violence, we want to sterilise the wound, to find reasons for it and guard ourselves against it in the future. But this is not what Jesus acts us to do, nor is it what he himself did. Let us speak love, opening ourselves to suffering, to questioning, to forgiving. Let us speak love and be spoken to by the one who is Love.