Friday, July 21, 2023 | Trey Comstock
Vanquishing your enemies feels powerful. That visceral sensation of triumph seems baked into the core of humanity. We want to see our folks win, and the bad folks lose. We create and spend billions of dollars on countless ways to experience this feeling outside of the actual battlefield. It’s executing the perfect pass on a racetrack, the game winning touchdown throw, the dance of a Victory Royale in Fortnite, the improbable slam dunk, or that time the Los Angeles Dodgers waltzed into the playoff with one of the best records ever only to lose in the first round with the Astros going on the win the World Series. (But, who’s counting?) A desire for this feeling of crushing victory gets recorded in the Psalms. As I’ve mentioned before, Psalm 109 contains a vivid description of destroying one’s enemies.
They say, ‘Appoint a wicked man against him;
let an accuser stand on his right.
When he is tried, let him be found guilty;
let his prayer be counted as sin.
May his days be few;
may another seize his position.
May his children be orphans,
and his wife a widow.
May his children wander about and beg;
may they be driven out of the ruins they inhabit.
May the creditor seize all that he has;
may strangers plunder the fruits of his toil.
May there be no one to do him a kindness,
nor anyone to pity his orphaned children.
May his posterity be cut off;
may his name be blotted out in the second generation.
May the iniquity of his father be remembered before the Lord,
and do not let the sin of his mother be blotted out.
Let them be before the Lord continually,
and may his memory be cut off from the earth.
(Psalm 109:6-15 NRSV)
The Psalmist literally prays for God to destroy their foe so utterly that even the memory of them disappears. Dear Lord, please give them that powerful, pit of my stomach, sensation of total victory, of me winning, and the other guy losing completely, Amen.
So, we like it, but should we? Or, to put it more theologically, do we love this feeling for Godly reasons, or does it come from a place in our soul that needs redeeming? Christ gives us an approach to our enemies that looks a lot different than the rush of joyous victory, when we see them destroyed.
‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 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 and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48 NRSV)
Part of being as perfect as our heavenly parent means finding a place in our souls to wish well on those who wish us ill. A Christian approach to the world means a loving approach to even those farthest from loving us. I don’t want to take this logic too far. Wanting the Dodgers to lose utterly in a game of Baseball is probably fine. The worst that will happen is that those players will make mildly fewer millions, and Angelinos everywhere we experience the emotional disappointment that they so richly deserve. This call to love our enemies works on the scale of real life and actual harm. When an enemy loses out, we should feel pain for their suffering, even if they brought it on themselves. As I’ll bring up as often as possible, thank God that Jesus approached his enemies with absolute compassion, or we would all be doomed.
To me, this should affect how we approach the Parable of Weeds amongst Wheat. Evil exists, and since we have free will, not everyone will choose God. In this plane of existence, we may not notice any consequences for this, but in the end, the parable lays out a reality where some enter God’s Kingdom and others do not. As a faith, we have, at times, expressed a triumphalist attitude toward this eventuality. We can sit in smug satisfaction that the end result will look a lot different than our world now, where godlessness feels ascendent. Isn’t it great that they’ll get it in the end?
No, it’s not great. It’s terrible. We have been tasked with loving our enemies and making disciples of all nations. We call ourselves Christians because we model ourselves on Christ by the power of God moving in our lives. Waiting around comfortably as wheat for the weeds to get their recompense does not align with God’s desires for us or this world. Our wiring contains that pull for putting a boot triumphantly on the neck of our enemy. I get it. However, that not everyone will enter the Kingdom should fill us with profound sadness and at least a hint of regret. Instead of triumph, we should wonder if we could have done more. That this sounds unnatural reveals the difference redemption can make in how we approach the world. On our own, we desire crushing victory. With God, we can have compassion for all.