Saturday, November 14, 2009

How An Enemy Can Become a Friend

(I'm writing from Bangkok)

I've had people in my life who gave greatly troubled me. I have wished they were not in my life. For these people I have functioned in a similar way; viz., as an adversary, a hindrance, an irritant, one who is even despised.

God has designed things to be this way. Recognizing this will abort the futile struggle to find some kind of relational Eden on earth. I suggest to you that we need such people, that they also need us, so that together we might discover the summum bonum of life, which is: love. Love for God. Love for the beloved (this is not as obvious as you might think). Love for friends. Love for the enemy. Love within the church, as it is in that heavenly perichoretic Tri-unity of Father, Son, and Spirit.

To realize this is to be free from the struggle to be free from the struggle with "others." Who are the "others?" They are the ones who are other than you. Which means: everyone, past, present, and future. There has never been another person who thinks, feels, and experiences just as you do. God sees this and says, "This is good."

There is spiritual necessity regarding "the other." For the different one, the odd one, the one who looks at things in ways you cannot conceive. Herein lies the genius of the Trinity. Sharing the one essence that is God are three different Persons. Is it easy for Father, Son, and Spirit to love one another? I am not sure that would be the question. They do not have to work at it. That is the relationship we are invited into. Vive la diffĂ©rence!

Nevermind for a moment that people are so different from, not "us," but "me." "Us" is, re. this discussion, an illusion. The perichoretic love-relationship is the thing that is so very different. Yet, for such a thing as this were we created. This is our raison d'etre. It is in us. This is why we cannot get away from it. This is why songs about love are written, have been written, and shall not cease to be written to all eternity.

Many years ago, in another time and another ministry, there was a Christian man who hated me. And I, one of his pastors, hated him. One day I went out to pray and God spoke to me, saying, "The hatred you have for this man is wrong." Of course. I already knew that. And God knew that I already knew that. But often God uses things like remembering and repetition to make his point. On that day I asked God to take the hatred out of my heart by removing this man from my life. One of us needed to make an exit. I really didn't care which one God wanted it to be. But God's answer to the question "Which one? was: "Neither." Thanks a lot, God, for putting us both through hell," I thought, showing some compassion towards this hated man in my not wanting either I or him to experience hell. I then prayed, "OK." I do believe this brief sentence was a prayer, if prayer means talking with God about what we are doing together. Then I added, "At least make me the kind of person who can love those who hate me." God then told me, "I am trying to do this, John. That's why this man is in your life."

On that day, upon hearing this, I rejoiced. I drove back to the church building. When I got out of my car this man's wife pulled in the driveway. I never saw her there, except for Sundays. While normally I did not want to draw close to her since any wife of my enemy is an enemy of mine, I walked right to her. She was crying. God told me, "Give her that book you've been reading that's in your car. It's for her to have." I gave her the book as a gift, saying "I think God wants you to have this." She was grateful. I felt compassion and love for her.

A month or so after this, as this man and his wife and Linda and I were eating dinner together, I remembered how once we were enemies and gave thanks to God that now we were friends.