My best friend when I was 5-years-old was named Tommy. He was from Germany and had hip dysplasia which meant he walked with a limp. I never seemed to mind that he couldn’t keep up with me when we ran on the playground because I valued having someone to laugh and play with so much. Our friendship was so special to me that I even bestowed the high honor of naming my cat after him.
One day a little girl from our kindergarten class came over after school to play with Barbies at my house. As we were playing she saw a picture of me and Tommy on my nightstand and in her little snobby voice exclaimed, “Ew, you’re friends with Tommy? He walks funny!” I don’t remember much after that, probably because I was blinded by rage, but my Mom recalls me snatching the Barbie from Tiffany’s hand, pushing her to the floor, and yelling to my Mom that she needed to send Tiffany home. Even as a child I had a deep sense of loyalty that I felt was worth fighting for, but identifying the enemy was always a problem.
Moses was a man chosen by God to deliver His people from Egyptian slavery. In Genesis 2:11-15, we read about a circumstance that describes Moses’ approach in handling injustice:
“One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. When he went out the next day, behold, two Hebrews were struggling together. And he said to the man in the wrong, ‘Why do you strike your companion?” He answered, ‘Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?’”
I can imagine Moses in that moment with the fear and shame he must have felt. He thought he knew who the enemy was. He thought that the decision to save his Hebrew brother’s life by taking the life of an Egyptian was a fair judgment. I wonder if it was later in his time as a fugitive that Moses realized that the devaluing of humanity that motivated him to kill was more enslaving than making bricks without straw.
I have read and heard thoughts centered on Matthew 5:43-48 about loving your enemies for most of my life. In the passage Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
It wasn’t until I started working at my job as a public health nurse in the worst parts of Philadelphia that I was truly confronted with the difficulty in these words. For the last year and a half, I have been surrounded by the most intensely dark circumstances imaginable trying to be a source of hope to those entrenched in trauma. Two weeks ago I was in the hospital with my client during her thirty-six hours of labor. The father of the baby, her ex-boyfriend, came to her room for about thirty minutes and wasn’t too thrilled to even be there that long. When he told her he was leaving to go to a barbecue with his new girlfriend she was understandably upset. She was clearly frightened about the possibility of raising this child alone, and his reaction to her fears was to yell threats and verbal abuse as swells of contractions were beating her like the waves at high tide. I stood up wanting hurl those insults back at him, and it took every ounce of self-control not to tear him limb from limb.
It’s in the heat of those moments when I’m faced with an injustice that God’s perspective reminds me that we are all affected by the cruelty of this world and sometimes a heart of stone is our means of survival. When God reorients me to the sacrifice He has made for those I would consider my enemies, the questions that are raised in my mind shifts from wondering what is wrong with this person to what wrongs were done to them. It is then that I start to see that my enemies are not people or even the hatred they may hold inside of them, but my enemy is the part of me that would rather strike and kill than love.
The last battlefront of the Great Controversy is in our hearts, and I have learned that becoming a warrior for Christ means fighting for compassion. That fight within comes from the understanding that I am not beyond the enslaving hatred that strips people of their humanity. When I live and act out of that truth that is when Grace starts to win. That is when Love starts to change the world by transforming me.