Last Friday morning, I awoke early (like before the crack of dawn early!) and meditated on a well-known, often-quoted-out-of-context passage of Scripture. I’ve read these verses countless times and it hits me anew even now.
27. “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28. bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”
LUKE 6:27-28 (ESV)
He Who Has Ears to Hear…
Jesus’s first words were for those “who hear” which tells me that there were some—perhaps many—sitting in the crowd who wouldn’t be able to hear His message (including more than just the Pharisees and Sadducees). In Iight of our modern era, Jesus’s words pierce just as deep.
“…pray for those who abuse you.”
When I read those words last week, they gave me pause. (Imagine that, getting triggered by Scripture!) An intrusive memory flashed through my mind like a movie. A familiar scene that tried to form into a flashback (if I hadn’t been so focused on writing notes while I was reading, it definitely would have!): my college abuser—who had groomed me so well he didn’t have to use force—kissing me, his hands in places they shouldn’t have been. For 6 months, various incidents happened. Most times, I didn’t fight him. I didn’t know I should have.
As an abuse survivor with PTSD, I know there have been a myriad of times when I didn’t want to obey that part of Scripture—especially when the PTSD symptoms spiked. Hours, days, lost because of dissociation caused by night terrors and intrusive memories, nocturnal panic attacks, and flashbacks that made me lose sense of reality. With PTSD comes flashbacks, where my brain goes back to and believes it’s 2014 even though the calendar says otherwise. For example, I’ll think I have a class I’m late for or homework I forgot about when, in reality, I don’t; I haven’t since I graduated. And in almost every single one of these flashbacks, I see… him. He’s still 29; I’m still 22.
Jesus’s words are hard to hear, harder still to obey, especially when coming out of a flashback or panic attack. It takes a while for my body and brain to catch up. And in response to the trauma, sometimes too often for my liking, I would harm myself; it was easier than trying to forgive him when I knew I didn’t mean it. When you start abusing yourself in response to someone else abusing you, things get complicated fast. My prayers, especially the first few years after graduation, were more along the lines of “God, please kill him!” or “God, please come get me, come save me from this hellish nightmare!” while I was in the midst of self-harm and would soon after have to pray for repentance.
Biblical Math vs Trauma Reality
As a student of the Word, I know what Scripture says about forgiveness and loving your enemies. Jesus has a math formula for that: “70 x 7” right? But then… the pain of trauma worsened and I started questioning YHWH.
YHWH, how many times will I have to repeatedly forgive him? Every time I have a flashback? Every time a panic attack awakens me from a nightmare? I know justice belongs to You, Lord, but can I please just smash his skull in with a hammer—just once?—please?? “70 x 7” Jesus says… dude… ugh. That’s such messed up math! It’s not fair; God help!! I know Christians aren’t promised easy lives for following You but really God? Really?!
In spite of the questions and pain, I knew in my heart of hearts that I didn’t have a leg to stand on. I wasn’t more righteous or better than anyone else because I may have had more pain to contend with or more unanswered questions that plagued me at night.
And yet Jesus, in His grace and mercy, interceded for and called me when I was an enemy of the Most High, eons before I deconverted and wanted nothing to do with Him or Christianity, and even after He brought me back through a backyard fire pit, when I offended YHWH with my willful sin and “killed the author of life” (Acts 3:15), so who am I to tell YHWH “No, I don’t want to do that—I don’t want to pray for him or love him as You have loved me or forgive him 490 times—because it hurts”?
“God is Love! Isn’t That Enough?”
Some “progressive” Christians hold to the “God is love” ideology; until it’s time to commit and obey the words of Christ. They often cite the Luke passage and forsake the “barbaric Old Testament God,” as if YHWH changes from the Old Testament “harsh, cruel dictator” stereotype to the “peace and love” caricature they hold of Jesus in the New Testament. But YHWH does not change from Genesis to Revelation. Yet oftentimes, the “progressive” Christians contradict their supposed beliefs with their actions, just like the Israelites. They preach tolerance and love towards others… until they themselves are hurt. Then the desire for justice—for vengeance—arises. “I’m a good person,” they cry; so did the Israelites.
Earlier this week, I conversed with my dear friend, one of my Theological Nerds, Professor and apologist Dr. Tim McGrew about what I was reading in Luke. He weighed in on the incompleteness of the “God of the OT is a tyrant but Jesus of the NT is solely love” ideology. Dr. McGrew says the following:
“Sometimes one hears people complain about the moral code of the Old Testament. God permits things like lifelong slavery of gentile prisoners, which is hard to reconcile with perfect holiness. But here’s a funny thing: in these passages (see esp. Matthew), Jesus says outright, in multiple cases, that obeying the OT law is not enough for holiness. He says, for example, that… [it] isn’t enough to love your friends and hate your enemies; you must pray for those who hate you as well.
Jesus says, in fact he insists, that the moral code of the Old Testament is not the measure of holiness. You want to be holy? Don’t think you’ve made the cut by obeying the law. There’s more.”
Love Your Enemies
“44. But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45. so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”
MATTHEW 5:44-45 (ESV, EMPHASIS MINE)
In light of the cross and everything Jesus would have to endure at the hands of Pontius Pilate and the Jews, this is a profound statement! Jesus “loved His enemies” to the point that He would lay down His life for them while praying “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” That is…mind-blowing! This flies in the face of religion and our modern “progressive” Christianity/ cancel culture. This is not an easy commandment to follow; it takes humility (relinquishing our desires for revenge), picking up our cross (following Jesus’s example and entrusting our enemies to the Father), and prayer— lots of prayer!
As those who came to YHWH, initially, as enemies of the One who created everything from the solar system to the respiratory system in every human body, we who have believed in Him for salvation, restoration, and new life, we who are now co-heirs with Jesus and are called “children of God”—as a result of trusting in His death, burial, and resurrection—are now commanded to be imitators of Christ in loving our enemies.
An Ending Prayer
Please help me to love my enemies in a practical way. Help me to pray for them without my heart turning stone cold, hard, and unmovable.
In Jesus’ name, I pray,