They Are Not the Enemy

I spent nearly three decades in the political space, the “government mountain” of culture. Multiple state and national grassroots organizations; five presidential campaigns; dozens of other campaigns; time in DC. I’ve seen a lot.

Politics can definitely be a blood sport, but twenty years ago I would not have imagined just how coarse, corrosive and cruel our political discourse has become. For example, back then hardly anyone ever called an opponent in a campaign a “liar.” We used euphemisms such as “falsehoods” and “untrue statements.” Today, well, that’s quite a different story.

As name-calling, F-bombs and unashamed crudeness and vulgarity have increasingly become the coin of our broader cultural discourse, it shouldn’t surprise us that our politics, where the stakes of winning and losing can be so high, mirror this.

In such a climate it’s easy and tempting to view those who disagree with us as “the enemy.” I have a secular left friend with whom I agree on almost nothing. He is so full of anger, can be so illogical and unreasoning, and so prone to personal attacks, I confess there are times, if I’m not careful, in my exasperation I can sink to a place where I can see him as an “enemy.”

The problem with this is two-fold. First, the Apostle Paul’s exhortation that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood signals clearly to us who the real enemy is.

I was reminded of the second problem with this during my meditation on the Scriptures recently. My preferred Bible is The Revival Study Bible, and there’s a story in it that corresponds to Paul’s lament in Romans 7:14-25, about his struggle with the things he does not want to do.

In the 14th century, a Belgian duke named Raynald III was overthrown by his brother, who then imprisoned him. The brother devised a uniquely cruel means of imprisonment. Raynald III was grossly overweight, as he was a slave to his gluttony. The brother had a prison cell constructed with no door, just an opening too narrow for Raynald III to squeeze through.

All Raynald III had to do to escape was lose some weight. But the brother exploited Raynald’s gluttonous appetite by having nearly endless servings of delicious food delivered to his cell daily. Raynald thus had a daily choice: remain in bondage to his gluttony and thus remain in bondage in his prison cell, or shed the chains of his gluttony and shed the bondage of his cell.

You probably can guess what happened. Raynald III, against all logic, chose his gluttony, growing fatter by the day. He died in that prison cell, but that physical cell isn’t what caused his death.

We see this all around us, wounded and broken people choosing death over life as they live in bondage to sinful appetites. Our lives, lived rightly and well, will appeal to some of them. Others may mock us, reject us, treat us as enemies, and perhaps persecute us, even as their lives are shattered, wounded messes. But they are not our enemies, they are captives in bondage and in need of rescue. In Luke 4:18-21, we find Jesus reading from Isaiah 61:1:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.

The Scriptures are clear throughout – God never winks at sin. He takes sin very seriously. Indeed, He hates sin, because of its incredible destructiveness. But here Jesus reminds all of us that we are captives – captives to sin, woundedness, and brokenness. We know from the record of His life that He loves us even as we rebel against Him and reject him, that we are not an enemy to be conquered but captives in desperate need of rescuing, and that only He can rescue us.

When I remind myself of where I was 45 years ago, and the undeserved grace God extended to me, I can more clearly understand how God sees my friend, and I can see him that way too. Not as an enemy to be conquered but a captive to be rescued. And in a way God did conquer me because I surrendered to him, but His conquering was through love and grace, not power and force.

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