Another Limit of Love

I’m into Loving My Enemies

The Bible teaches that we should love our enemies, and therefore I’m opposed to war, which has as an objective killing our enemies. I’m also for doing away with the criminal justice system since that is not very loving either.

Some might argue that this system is loving in that jail time reforms some criminals. However, most it does not, the recidivism rate going through the roof. Besides, prison is not designed primarily for reform but for punishment, which is not an expression of agape love toward my enemy, the criminal. Since the Bible teaches we should love our enemies, the justice system should be replaced by a counseling program or some other mechanism designed exclusively to convey love to the criminal.

Meanwhile, Back in the Real World

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live in this world of loving enemies?

Well, if we initiated the program at the outset of World War II, this program would not have been such a great place for the Jews. After finishing their extermination in Europe, Hitler would have come after those in Britain, America, and elsewhere. Of course, he didn’t like other people groups either, some researchers concluding that in addition to 6 million Jews he also exterminated 11 million others.

By some accounts Stalin made Hitler look like a nice guy, wiping out 40 million, with Chairman Mao outdoing them both by exterminating 60 million human beings.

This tells us that the world is not an especially friendly place, and therefore failure to control aggressors with force might constitute a display of love to them, but would be quite unloving to their victims.

Likewise, do away with the criminal justice system and innocent people will suffer at the hands of thugs.

Mutually Exclusive Love

Therefore, loving enemies such as tyrants and criminals results in the suffering of innocent people. Consequently, we can’t show love to both. We are forced to choose which we will love. It is evident that we should protect the innocent even if it means not administering agape love to tyrants and criminals.

Scripture deals with this issue in Romans 13:4 where Paul teaches regarding rulers, “For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.” The sword is not an instrument of love, at least not for those who are its victims. However, it is an instrument of love when used to protect innocent people.

When Should We Use the Sword?

Today, Christians in Nigeria are being decimated by Boko Haram, a jihadist group bent on exterminating them and taking over the country. This raises the question of whether the Nigerian Christians should convey love toward this enemy or protect themselves and their families from them.

A similar situation arose decades ago in Sudan where the Muslim north committed genocide against the Christian south killing virtually millions of them. I heard one pastor criticize these Christians for organizing an Army to defend themselves. Were they right in doing so, or is this pastor taking the biblical position in asserting that they should have continued to love their enemy?

Some might argue that if Christians love their enemies God will protect these believers. The illustration above suggests that this is not the case. I recall reading about the Maccabean army while at war with an enemy deciding not to fight on the Sabbath. That particular Saturday about a thousand Maccabean soldiers were killed. After that they fought on the Sabbath. Please don’t misunderstand. I am not suggesting that God is not faithful to His promises and program. I am saying that it is important that we understand the nature of His promises and program, because misunderstanding can lead to disaster.

Now back to Nigeria. Should we advise Nigerian Christians to defend themselves? In answering that question it is important that we do not sugarcoat the situation. We are talking about Nigerian Christians purchasing weapons and ammunition and using them to kill those assaulting them. What would we advise them to be the biblical position?

Making It Personal

In answering, think about what you would do if someone broke into your house in the middle of the night. This criminal might be satisfied just to take some things and leave, but you don’t know that. We hear horror stories about such assailants raping and torturing and murdering. If you kept a gun by your bed, do you think God would have you shoot this invader? We might look for a middle ground such as warning him, but what if that middle-ground disappears and he ignores our warning?

One might answer that Jesus allowed people to kill Him, so we should be willing to do the same. However, what if your children are in the house with you, and therefore they are also at risk? Should you love your enemy at the expense of your children?

Answering “no” in effect is a vote for Nigerian Christians to arm themselves. Certainly if we believe we should protect our children we must conclude that they should protect theirs also.

The Big Question

This discussion may leave the impression that I am asserting that we should not follow the command of Christ to love our enemies. I assure you that this is not the case. However, I believe that the New Testament teaches that at times other commandments take precedence. But when? Certainly at times I should love my enemy. But most of us have come to the conclusion in the discussion above that there are times when other factors trump loving one’s enemy.

On what basis do we decide when to love our enemies and when to do otherwise? This question moves us into a complex but practical and significant area of discussion that I plan to address tomorrow. Because this is such a crucial issue I hope you will join me tomorrow and invite others also.

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