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Mercy Over Judgment

Aaron White

May 27, 2020

I have noticed a disturbing trend on social media lately. Within the increasing polarization of political and cultural allegiance has emerged the sentiment that it might be good if our enemies were to die. 

Now, human history is filled with people who wanted their enemies dead. We even see it in Biblical prayers like Psalm 137, where the people of God, enslaved in Babylon, long for the violent death of their captors and their captors’ children. 

The Psalms are prayers, honest expressions of frustration, anger, even vengeance. But they are grounded in the proviso that vengeance rests entirely in the hands of the LORD. And then we discover (occasionally to our dismay) with Jesus that the LORD’s hands would rather be nailed to a cross than raised to smite an enemy. In the light of this, Jesus’ followers are called to be bringers of mercy, not judgment.

Which makes this current trend all the more worrying. Crises like the current pandemic tend to amplify the best and the worst impulses in us. So now people are advancing the idea that it might be good for certain other people to get sick and die in order to show how wrong they or their political champions are. The result is gleeful, gloating posts - sometimes from Christians - about pastors and congregants who have died of Covid after gathering to worship; the expression of the hope that the “Covidiots” who flocked prematurely to the beaches should succumb to the virus; or the suggestion that drug addicts, homeless people or migrants have no one to blame but themselves if the virus or some other factor kills them off. (This latter sentiment has been around for awhile, but is gaining new traction in these days).  

How can Christians justify holding these things in their hearts, let alone expressing them? This is not how Christians are instructed to treat - or even think of - their enemies. We are simply not given the license to dismiss our enemies or to seek their demise. And this seems especially galling when it is for the purpose of proving our political, social or cultural superiority to them.

How have we gone so wrong? I submit this happens when we begin to love our beliefs and opinions more than we love God or our neighbours. G.K. Chesterton said “The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.” We now live in a global village, where our neighbours are only a click away. Yet as connected as we are it is so easy to disengage with neighbours we disagree with through the simple expedient of the “unfriend” button. We encircle ourselves with those who think along the same lines as we do, and so lose our ability to communicate with our neighbour, who we have re-labeled our enemy. In fact, we get to the point where we can’t even imagine how or why someone would hold the “wrong” opinions or fail to believe what we believe. After all, we don’t know anyone who thinks like that. They must be ignorant/bigoted/monstrous/fill-in-the-blank. 

We may say that we are only passionate about justice and can’t abide the opinions of the unjust. But again, this likely means we have fallen in love with our idea of justice, rather than with the God of Justice. When we love justice we feel justified in hating those who we believe oppose it. We feel free to view these people as enemies. But when we love the God who said His mercy triumphs over justice, we are not free to do this. Instead, we are invited to view people - even our socio-political opponents - as beloved children of God. 

So what can we do? At Jacob’s Well we are committed to being friends with our neighbours. Not all of our neighbours agree with each other or with us. Some act in ways that we find strange, offensive, even sinful. And some would view our actions as equally bizarre. But we know we must seek ways to engage, to communicate, to give and receive love, and to refuse to label people as enemies. 

This applies to the broader Church as well. We are wonderfully supported by many churches in Vancouver and beyond, but there are some churches or individual christians who have views on the poor, the addicted, or the refugee that is the polar opposite of what we believe. Some give credence to elaborate conspiracy theories which seem to have more to do with political allegiances than with scripture. Are we allowed to hate them, dismiss them, or even secretly wish that they would get sick and die? Of course not. They are also God’s beloved children, and we are called to love them as well.

A good starting point for all of this is to not cut off communication. This does not mean inviting or tolerating abuse, nor does it mean we shouldn’t hold true to our convictions. But it does mean we should not be so quick to take offense, nor so eager to dismiss others as unworthy of our attention. Really listening to people - as people and not as positions or policies - can help us hear the deeper concerns, hurts, fears and hopes behind their public expression. And paying more attention to those things will help grow compassion in us for one another. This is a foundational practice for the life of Jacob’s Well, and a message we want to bring to the wide Body of Christ.

But if we still insist on categorizing certain people or groups of people as enemies, then we have some very direct commands on how we are to treat them: “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:27-28) 

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