The Paradox of Loving Your Enemy

The Paradox of Loving Your Enemy March 30, 2023

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“You have heard that is has been said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and shall hate your enemy’ – Whereas I telly ou, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; In this way you become sons of your Father in the heavens, for he makes his sun rise on the wicked and the good, and sends rain upon the just and the unjust.” -Matt. 5:43-45 (The New Testament: A Translation, Hart)


A Love For Enemies

Christianity is filled with stories of the love for one’s enemy. The Bible is full of quotes of Jesus to love everyone. Not only are we to love everyone, we are to go the extra mile, give up our coats, and sell everything we have for the poor (Matt. 5:41; 5:40; 19:21). I find the fact that Jesus is concerned with loving our enemies so interesting. Considering Jesus was Jewish, the Hebrew scriptures are pretty tribal. Stories like the fall of Jericho and David and Goliath don’t really give off the same energy. Where we do see this idea is in Jonah.

Jonah is a great example of the Hebrew Bible and the love for enemies. God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach God’s judgment. He decides to go the opposite way, gets caught up in a storm, swallowed by a big fish, thrown up, makes his way to the city, and preaches. Jonah is enraged when the Ninevites repent and are saved.

The first two verses of Jonah are God sending Jonah out. We know the message that he is called to preach (see Jonah 3:4). There isn’t anything in our translations to suggest that this is initially a call to repentance. All God says is ‘judgment is coming’ – there’s no indication if this judgment can be stopped. Why would Jonah not want to go to a hated city and tell them they’re going to be destroyed? I think this whole story is the way Jewish authors introduce God’s love for everyone into their cannon.


How Do We Love the Hated?

I have heard that the God of the Hebrew Scriptures acted differently than Jesus. You can read about it here. I think that the story of Jonah shows what God has always been like. Jesus isn’t saying anything new – he’s just continuing the lesson.

The Sermon on the Mount – Matthew chapters 5-7, is Jesus recontextualizing the Jewish law and customs. Jesus is calling his followers to a life of wisdom instead of the letter of the law. We see Jesus equating lust to adultery, anger to murder. Jesus tells his followers to not look for revenge but become self-sacrificial. That’s where we come across the teaching to love our enemies.

We see similarities in messages when it comes to our neighbor. The Good Samaritan asks the question: is our enemy really our enemy? In this story, the Samaritan is actually more of a brother to the main character. Is the Samaritan actually an enemy?


This is the paradox: How do you love your enemy when you no longer have enemies?


What Now?

If we believe we are to love God and our neighbor, we no longer have enemies to love. Jesus isn’t telling us how to love our enemies, but in this command reveals that we have no enemies. We are all the loved children of God. How does this change our opinion of the ‘other side’? Our political ideology is not our Christian identity. God has called us to see the divinity in all. 

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