“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” – Jesus
Despite the polarized society we all live in, where every possible topic up for discussion seems to create adversarial relationships seemingly at random, most of us in western civilization do not have enemies in the way the Israel viewed the Romans in Jesus’ day or the way Ukrainians currently view the invading Russian army. We do have personal rivalries or people who are out to harm us or cause us trouble. Yet I find it to be a stretch to call these people “enemies.” Even so, Scripture calls us to forgive and pray for our enemies.
How our fellow man becomes our enemy
At the same time, we know from the spiritual warfare language in the Bible that there are forces at work to hinder the spread of the gospel and the flourishing of human beings. We also know that some human beings are being used to thwart the Kingdom of God, sometimes unwittingly, which creates issues for Christians eagerly seeking to do the work of the Lord. The main issue is that the powers of darkness are pitting us against other human beings as though they are our enemies. This is why other humans should not be considered the true enemy, but a proxy for the powers of evil. From onerous regulation to infringements on our God-given rights, the powers of darkness are at work using politicians to constantly meddling in our affairs, sometimes in ways that inhibit our ability to serve others or do the right thing in the face of injustice. That is, they are using the state to make it difficult for those of us working for the Kingdom of God.
To be sure, politicians and unelected officials are not “off the hook” simply because we see them being used by the powers of darkness to thwart Kingdom purposes. They are free agents with the ability to choose differently in such a way as to align with the Kingdom and promote freedom and flourishing for all. It is because this spiritual battle rages on that we must persist in learning to live free and flourish in a world where politicians are hell-bent on creating harm toward peaceful individuals.
Forgive and pray for our enemies
So what shall we do? I believe we must begin with two things: forgive them and pray for them. This does not mean we stop criticizing them, speaking truth to their abuses of power, or even holding them accountable for wrongs done to others. When we face any enemy with a heart of forgiveness as Jesus did on the cross – ”forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing” – we provide space for acknowledging their humanity, which then allows us to pray in a more powerful way for real repentance, healing, and justice. While anger can give way to justified action in the public space, we must learn to see past our own anger and frustration and rest in the providence of God that justice will be served.
Unfortunately, mere forgiveness feels like nothing is being done, which is why forgiveness is paired with praying for our enemies. Our anger can generate an energy that should be devoted not to retaliation or impulsive reactions, but to praying for those who persecute us. We should pray for wisdom, repentance, and just action. We can pray that they see the Kingdom of God working in the hearts of people and not through the state or through their own actions.
By forgiving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us, we are doing what Jesus asked, and we are opening ourselves to listening to the Spirit of God guide how we will live and flourish in a world distorted by sin.