Loving Our Enemies

Nine years ago today, the World Trade Center was hit by two planes that had been commandeered by Muslim extremists. Every person in the world has a different memory of their experience of that day. Some remember receiving a phone call from their loved ones who were on one of the planes; some never got to say goodbye. Others watched helplessly as people they knew jumped from the toppling buildings live on tv; some were on the streets at Ground Zero giving out shoes and water to those trying to escape the falling towers. And then some of us were in classes, at work, or, like me, just waking up, when we first heard the news.

I woke up when my mom called me from work. That was the first indicator that something was very wrong. She told me haltingly that I needed to go turn on the tv right now, so I hurried down the hall in my pajamas and flicked on the tv. I think I actually flipped through several channels, but the scenes were the same everywhere: live footage of the World Trade Center with smoke pouring out of it. I hurriedly woke my husband and we went into the living room. The first tower had already fallen, but as we sat on the couch and watched in stunned horror, a second plane crashed into the second tower, and it, too, fell.

I don't remember anything that any of the newscasters said; I don't remember what I did later that day. I just remember watching the towers fall and thinking how incongruous it was that in New York City (and around the world, in the families of those affected) there was this mass devastation, and yet outside my window, the sky was blue, the birds were chirping, and it was a beautiful early autumn day.

I have prayed often that God would bring peace and closure to anyone who was affected by the events of September 11, 2001, whether they be direct victims of the attack, family of victims who died, or even people involved in the planning and implementing of the attacks. Yes, even them. First of all, God calls us to love our enemies and pray for them. This would include those Muslim extremists. That doesn't mean that we have to agree with what they did, or their philosophy on life, or anything. Praying for someone, even forgiving them, never means that you're saying that what they did was okay or right. It just means that God has brought you to a place where you can be at peace - with what happened, with the people involved, with yourself, and with the past and the future.

We don't have to agree. But we do have to love, and pray. Jesus says in Luke 6:

     "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse  
     you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If
     someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if
     anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to
     you.


     "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. And
     if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. And if you
     lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,'
     expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting
     to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is
     kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

     "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive,
     and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken
     together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured
     to you."                      (Luke 6:27-38, NIV)

Now, it may just be me, but I don't read anywhere in these passages where Jesus tells us to retaliate if our enemies do bad stuff to us. He doesn't even say that we should "defend" what's ours (like, say, at the risk of being "blasphemous," our country), but rather, give more of it to those that take it. Someone takes my coat, I should give him my shirt, too. Someone punches me in the face, I shouldn't punch back. Even if he does it again.

This ideology is in direct opposition to patriotism. I've long found it difficult to reconcile following Christ with being an American. And while I am by no means saying that we should hate America, or that America is evil, or that Jesus is anti-America, I am saying that "the American Dream" is not Christian philosophy. In America, we take pride in ourselves, in our country, in the things we do and own, in the power we have to shape our own futures. I agree that we should be grateful that we have such freedom. But the conflict comes when we offer our allegiance to both these ideals and to Christ. "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other" (Matthew 6:24). Whenever we have "two masters" that conflict, we must make sure that the one we choose to constantly follow is Christ.

So even though I love America - the freedoms we have to be who we want to be, to worship as we feel led, and to seek our fame and fortune if we so choose - I cannot live in a duality serving both Christ and America. When it comes right down to it, I will serve Christ, even if that means loving the people that bomb our cities, kill our soldiers, and attempt to displace Christianity with their religion. I must still love them, and serve them, even while they hate me, mock me, destroy the things my country stands for. I must defend them, because they are God's children also. Our families have suffered at their hands, yes. But their families have suffered too. Terrorists are people, too. And even though they may be my "enemies," they are my brothers, because we were all created in the image of God, and because of this, they deserve to be loved.

Also, I just want to be clear that, while I'm not in total agreement with war, I very much appreciate the dedicated soldiers who have left home, family, comfort, and given countless hours - and many, even their lives - to protect us. Even though I may not be in full agreement with what America stands for, I can still appreciate those who serve our country, and on this day, this anniversary of grief and death, I honor you, soldiers, who are voluntarily fighting for justice and dignity all over the world.

And to the families of those who have lost loved ones, whether in acts of terror, or through their loved ones' dedication to serve, I pray that God would give your souls peace, that your hope in humanity may be restored, and that, above all, you may forgive those who have hurt you, even as Christ forgives us.