How do you love someone who is so filled with hate that you see absolutely no opening for grace? It’s not possible apart from the supernatural work of God in our hearts.
I remember reading about one of the Coptic Christians beheaded on that Lybian beach several years ago. There he was, on his knees, knowing his end was near. Yet, when the ISIS member stood behind him with a machete in hand, that young Christian man had the presence of mind to say, “After you’ve taken my life, I’d like you to take my Bible and read it.” Imagine.
I heard another story of a mother who lost two sons on the beach that day. She said if given the opportunity, she’d invite her sons’ killers to her dinner table for a chance to share the gospel with them.
I cannot fathom that kind of love and conviction, but I do know that it doesn’t happen in the heart overnight. Love like that is stewarded in a thousand smaller, unseen ways. When given the opportunity to choose self, one chooses to love instead.
My husband does some humanitarian work in Rwanda. We’ve got two young men (we call them our African sons), that we feel called to help and encourage as often as we’re able. They and their friends are watching how we in the U.S. treat each other. They worry that our polarization will not end well. They know this from personal experience.
In Rwanda, the genocide is still fresh. Men and women who work alongside one another have parents that killed each other. Yet somehow, they’ve managed to forgive one another. They no longer see themselves as Hutus or Tutsis, but as Rwandans.
We’ve much to learn from these dear people.
Especially as Christians, we should be leading the way in this country, modeling love, humility, and grace. We should win the prize for perseverance when it comes to going the distance with someone who thinks differently than we do.
A couple of years ago, I had a fantastic conversation with Dan White, Jr. about his book, Love Over Fear: Facing Monsters, Befriending Enemies, and Healing Our Polarized World.
“Whether it’s the news, social media, or well-intentioned friends, we’re told daily to fear others. We fear strangers, neighbors, the other side of the aisle, even those who parent differently. And when we’re confronted with something that scares us, our brain sees only two options: ATTACK /AVOID
But either way, polarization intensifies. What if you could defy your own instincts and chose a third option—scandalous, unthinkable, LOVE?”
He talked about our tendency to self-protect at the expense of love.
He reminded us that love calls us to empty ourselves (not protect ourselves) for the sake of another.
Here’s what’s true: We’ll never learn to love our enemies as long as we’re continually and constantly reacting to them. Somehow, some way, we’ve got to step back and remember how Jesus lived.
He was a friend of sinners. He sat around the table with people of questionable character, yet He never sacrificed His convictions. He wasn’t intimidated or scared off by those who embraced a perspective different from His. He was full of grace and truth.
Someone once asked Ruth Graham how she managed to love Billy amidst his own character flaws and grueling travel schedule. She humbly replied,
“It’s my job to love Billy. It’s God’s job to make him good.”
What if we adopted that mindset? What if we stewarded our hearts and fought hard in prayer to find a redemptive perspective of the ones we find most difficult to love?
It’s not the easiest thing to do but it’s the right thing to do.
That’s not to say we don’t speak to the issues. But we do so with a heart of holy confidence and humble dependence. We keep that twinkle in our eyes and humility in our hearts. We never let go of love in order to hang on to our cause.
My heart longs to see Christians humble themselves in this hour and find a better way to relate to a hurting, angry, fearful broken world.
I echo Dan’s words here:
Jesus is calling us out of our survival instincts, out of our politics of fear, out of our perceptions of others, into a lush landscape of love.