Is it possible to see God’s presence in persons who have hurt you or whom you feel have been the source of injustice in relationship to you or others? This isn’t easy. Feelings of pain and alienation often emerge when I think of certain people. But, there are moments when I can gain a larger perspective and see the holiness in them, despite their poor judgment or harmful actions.
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Parent in heaven” are among Jesus’ most difficult words. (Matthew 5:44-45) Alienation and hatred are socially-approved values in foreign policy and in our attitudes toward our nation’s enemies and our competitors. Now, it is clear that many times we will experience alienation in the work place and in our relationships. Justice may involve conflict, critique, and protest. When we have been personally harmed in the workplace, or hurt by institutional decisions or by friends and colleagues, it is appropriate to feel righteous anger, especially if we perceive others’ actions as misguided, short-sighted, or detrimental to your own well-being. This is a matter of self-affirmation and fidelity to your calling and your sense of justice and faithfulness to God. It may even be a matter of self-preservation.
Nations have every right to protect their borders from terrorists and other malign influences. Citizens have every right to lock their doors at night and assume that their government will provide protection appropriate to a free and democratic society. Parents have a right to use appropriate force to protect their children. Still, even as we protect ourselves and those in our care, challenge injustice, affirm our value as human beings, and critique unwise corporate decision-making, we would do well to see the divine in those with whom we contend.
The practical meaning of phrases such as “the image of God” and “divine omnipresence” is the recognition that God is moving in every life and that every life reflects something of the holy. As Luke Skywalker learned in his relationship with Darth Vader, there is some good in him. Surely Jesus saw the holiness, embedded yet forgotten by certain Jewish leaders, the frenzied mob, and the Roman oppressors, when he said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”
Seeing the holiness in your enemy and opponent was at the heart of Martin Luther King’s vision of the Beloved Community. Only this vision of a community of wholeness, affirming and embracing diversity and uniqueness, can save us from the divisiveness of culture wars, political gridlock, and ethnic polarization. Only the vision of God’s presence in our opponent and enemy can save us from our disastrous impact of our own hatred.
We will still support appropriate public safety, homeland security, and personal protection. But, we will live by love and not fear, seeing the holiness in ourselves and others. Our withdrawal of projections and hatred will heal ourselves and enable us to take the first steps in seeking justice in our relationships with others. We may even discover that some of their actions are justified in their eyes as a result of their experiences of injustice and their personal or corporate values. We may still challenge these values, but we will grow in understanding of the other and her or his needs and value system.
Today, let us seek God’s loving vision through living by the following affirmations:
God loves my enemies as well as me.
I experience holiness in the lives of persons with whom I contend.
I let go of hatred and alienation toward (a particular person).
I let go of hatred and alienation toward (a particular political leader or national enemy).
Commit yourself to spiritual mindfulness today. Notice your responses to figures in the media. Are you swept up in thoughtless alienation? Are you able to separate their public policies and beliefs from your feelings toward them? Notice your interactions throughout the day. When do you feel alienation or anger? How do you respond to these feelings? Are you able to affirm your position or value as a person without alienation or unnecessary anger? Are you able to let go of negativity so that it does not become a personal burden or contaminate your relationships?
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, healing companion, retreat leader and lecturer, and author of nineteen books, including Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living; God’s Touch: Faith, Wholeness, and the Healing Miracles of Jesus; and Tending to the Holy: The Practice of the Presence of God in Ministry. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.