(Not) This Again
“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:44-45 NIV)
I can’t believe I have to write about this again. Again. Yet another mass shooting, this time in Orlando, has rocked America and splattered itself all over the news and social media. This one touches so many hot-button issues — Muslims, immigration, gay rights, gun control, terrorism — that it was politicized before it even happened. Every opinion is diametrically opposed to someone else’s somewhere, and it seems to be extremely difficult not to devolve into judging and name-calling. Civil discourse isn’t always civil, let me tell you.
I hope you avoid name-calling. I hope you help if you can, just as the landlords, cab drivers, Chick-Fil-A employees, and first responders are, as well as the hundreds of people who stood in line around the block to donate blood. I hope I don’t have to tell you to pray for the victims’ families, surviving victims, and Orlando area. Anyone who’s human should be doing that, but God calls us to do even more.
I felt so convicted when my yoga teacher shared Matthew 5:44 with us this morning. As usual, Jesus sets an impossibly high standard. Love your enemies? Love someone who opens fire at people* who didn’t even know him? Love people who kill for the express purpose of making others feel afraid? Love people who hate you? How? How could we ever do that?
First, we need to remember that other people are not our real enemies. I’m not saying you should provoke anyone or walk into a place where you don’t feel safe, but the Bible is pretty clear about who the real enemy is: “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8b NIV). We are in the midst of a spiritual war in which the devil would love nothing more than to corrupt as many people to his side as possible before his ultimate destruction. The Orlando shooter was a human being — a deeply, tragically misguided one, but still a man made in the image of God. You can and should despise what he did, but he can’t touch your soul, and he had a soul God wanted to save (and perhaps God did save him; it looks unlikely, but we have no way to know!).
Second, we must remember that God loves all people. In Matthew 5:45, we’re reminded that God sends sun and rain to the righteous and the wicked alike. He “gives everyone life and breath and everything else” (Acts 17:25b NIV). Jesus died for everyone, even if some won’t accept him. We love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19)
Third, we have to love with God’s strength. “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26b NIV). There is no way that in our human frailty we could love our enemies. When we pray, we pray for their souls, and we pray that God would fill our hearts with his overflowing love.
So go ahead, have an opinion. I sure do. But let the civility of your words and your love for other people distinguish your discourse, because I’m about to offend you with my instructions. Pray for those who want to ban all guns and for those who are allergic to the thought of gun control. Pray for those who want to keep Muslims out of America and restrict immigration and for those who think Islam had nothing to do with the Orlando tragedy. Pray for Muslims and for those who think all religions are poisonous. Pray for LGBT people and for those who think LGBT people had this coming to them. Pray for political candidates who try to use tragedy to further their own agenda and for people who say “let’s not politicize this.”
As Pastor Vik said this past Sunday, we are all dirty, rotten sinners at heart, but “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8b NIV). I have a hard time imagining myself praying for blessings on some of people I described in the previous paragraph. I’m tempted to pray for their salvation, only in hopes that they won’t be so awful anymore. Certainly the transforming love of Jesus is what we all need, so let’s make sure he’s transforming us as well.
*Many stories call them “innocent” people, but none of us is truly innocent. Still, they were most likely innocent of any specific crime against the shooter.