Happy Moltmann (Tuesday)! I hope your Labor Day was relaxing and enjoyable. Today’s excerpt comes from The Politics of Discipleship and Discipleship in Politics. It’s in a chapter discussing how to follow Jesus in a time of nuclear war. The whole chapter is worth quoting, but I’ll limit myself today to a section where he discusses Jesus’ admonition (and example) to love our enemies (bold mine):
When we engage an enemy on the basis of the law of retaliation, we enter into a vicious circle from which we can no longer escape. We become enemy to our enemy and horrified by our own fear. We threaten what threatens us and we hate what hates us…When evil is retaliated with evil, then there arises one evil after another, and that is deadly. We can be freed from such vicious circles only when our orientation to the foe ceases and another one becomes more important to us.
The love which Jesus puts in place of retaliation is the love of the enemy. The love of friends, “mutual love,” is nothing special. it is only retaliation of good with good. The love of the enemy, however, is not recompensing, but is rather an anticipating, intelligent, and creative love. Whoever repays evil with good must be really free, strong and sovereign. The love for the enemy does not mean surrender to the enemy, submission to his will. For rather, he or she is no longer in the stance of reacting to the enemy, but seeks to create something new, a new situation for the enemy and for him/herself. He/she follows his/her own intention and no longer allows the law of actions to be prescribed by the foe.
The first few sentences give a clear description of what’s known as the cycle of violence. If we are trying to get a result other than violence, it’s going to take something besides violence for us to get there. This is why so many of us who are pacifists disagree with the idea of going to war to make peace. War never makes peace, or keeps peace. War is violence, and peace is not. Sometimes we go to war to scare our opponents out of doing certain actions. That’s not peace. That’s bullying. Granted, there are sometimes this kind of action is necessary, but let’s all be clear: that isn’t what making peace is about, and that certainly isn’t the ideal Jesus calls us to follow when he says for us to love our enemies. Buying ourselves a cease-fire is a temporary solution. It may get us less violence in the meantime, but it promises violence in the future because it keeps the retaliation wheel spinning. The only lasting solution comes from the creative power of a love that transcends violence.
That kind of love is made known to us in the life of Jesus, who, as Moltmann said, “did not die with a curse upon his enemies but rather with a prayer for them.” He lived an anticipating, intelligent, creative love that can bring forth life even from death, peace even from violence. He did that because he did not let the actions of others determine the kind of person he chose to be. He disentangled himself and made choices freely, based on his highest ethic. He did not get anxious or fearful or angry to the point that it kept him from being who he wanted to be- he stayed centered, grounded, resolute in love.
I love how Moltmann puts this in terms of intention. How do we practice the love of our enemies? By disentangling ourselves from our enemy’s anxiety and fear and hatred. We have to set ourselves apart from it. We have to decide that instead of reacting to our enemy, we are going to choose our own way instead, and we choose love. We no longer allow our actions to be decided by the very person we don’t want to imitate.
If we are truly free in Christ, we have the ability to love our enemies. We can be intentional about what actions we take and how we respond to people and by what values we decide to live. We can always choose the creative, powerful, life-giving, peace-creating force of love.