I’m not sure if it was because I was expecting it, or because I was past caring. However, when they separated I was indifferent. As a college student with a few more months left before starting university, I was consumed by what was ahead. I maintained my indifference for almost 6 years. But late last year, I questioned whether that was truly ok?
“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.” (Matthew 5:43-47, MSG)
As ever, Jesus is flanked by multitudes of people, thus He recedes to a mountaintop and begins preaching (Matthew 5:1). The scribes were the scholars of Jesus’ time: distinguished, eminent thinkers who had a greater understanding of the Bible than the average person. However, Jesus preaches with such conviction that the crowds sense that there is something undeniably different about this guy (Matthew 7:28-29). He isn’t like the scribes – He’s better! I’m sure you’d agree that the Bible can’t be compared to the average book. Yet our neglect of its study, and the casual disregard for basic principles speaks volumes. If you truly believe the Bible is inspired (2 Timothy 3:16) then every aspect of it should be regarded as sacred.
Selective love isn’t love.
In the passage above, Jesus is clarifying the boundaries of love. I’m almost certain that you’ve experienced the joy of reciprocal love. On the other hand, I hope that you’ve never had to feel the pain of unrequited love. Nevertheless, in both cases you chose to love, presumably because you felt the person ‘deserved’ your affection. The love that Jesus speaks of (for an enemy) could almost be described as ‘unmerited love.’ It’s very rare for a person to choose to love someone whose actions have caused hurt. Unlike the first two categories, it would be very easy to dismiss the offender as being undeserving of your love. However, Jesus isn’t one to appease; He challenges the crowd to buck the trend of selective love. He encourages them to broaden their boundaries to incorporate even the ‘unlovable.’
I can confidently state that I don’t have any enemies. Estranged, or wilfully distant relationships? Yes. Enemies? No. My father fell into the former categories. Let’s be clear, in my case there was no hatred involved; it was akin to ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ I have never (nor will ever) hate my Dad for the circumstances of my parents’ separation. Nevertheless, my initial thought when I read the passage above was that indifference isn’t love. Yes, we can continue living separate lives, but is that truly the loving thing?
The absence of hatred does not imply love.
Upon reflection, when they separated I was too absorbed with processing how it was inconveniencing me to contemplate the issue of love. Moving house meant my commute to college was now an hour longer, and I was also suddenly required to select a university closer to home. Later, when I entered a committed relationship I was struck by the thought my father wouldn’t walk me down the aisle as I’d always imagined. Although I’ve never spoken to my brother about it, I also wonder how he has been affected by it. To her credit, my Mum always told us that we were free to have a relationship with him. However, had it not been for the Holy Spirit’s promptings as I read this passage, I’m not sure I would have been in a hurry to do that.
On September 29th, for whatever reason, as I read Ezekiel 18, I felt impressed to make the devotion super practical. For the following week, my ‘devotion’ consisted of me seriously reflecting on certain questions. Namely:
- What would you have wanted from a father that you didn’t get from Dad?
- Are there any things about you (character traits) that you blame on Dad? Or ways in which you’re similar in a bad way? [this is directly related to Ezekiel 18]
- How do your experiences with Dad shape your perspective of the man you want to be in a relationship with?
- What are the good things that you attribute to Dad? Can you see any similarities in a good way?
- Why do you think that God allowed him specifically to be your father?
Some questions had longer answers than others, and some (like the last one) couldn’t really be answered conclusively. However, for the first time in almost 6 years I was actively thinking about him – on purpose. Various other questions crossed my mind that I didn’t journal, but more than anything I remember praying and genuinely caring about him. It was so unexpected because I had no immediate intentions to reconnect, but I just couldn’t ignore the passage in Matthew.
I’m forever seeing lots of posters for ‘soft launch’ events where I live. In one way, I feel like we’ve had a ‘soft reconnection’ because I’m thousands of miles away and electronic communication isn’t quite the same as face-to-face. What I would say, is that the process of reconnecting has taught me compassion in a way that I’d never experienced. Whilst my compassion in no way excuses his actions, it does remind me that there’s always a ‘why.’ I’m not the most forthcoming with saying ‘I love you’ (to anyone) and right now there’s something uncomfortable about reciprocating it… so I haven’t. It’s a process. The journey will be long, but I look forward to rebuilding this particular bridge, and all those to whom the passage applies.
Situations vary and my response to this passage (especially reconnecting) isn’t prescriptive. I don’t believe that loving someone implies your relationship will undergo a ‘factory reset’ and all will be well post-reconciliation. However, I do believe that clinging to hatred (or indifference) is unbiblical. If you’re struggling to love someone, it might be worth:
- Being honest with yourself about what’s holding you back from love – I’m an advocate for journaling!
- Bringing those issues to God to help you heal – praying about your issues, and for the ‘offender’ is key. In my case, it was strange being moved to tears of compassion where indifference once lived.
- Accessing counselling to help you work through difficult issues – haven’t needed this yet, but wouldn’t hesitate if I did. Don’t be shy or embarrassed!
- Being prepared for unrequited love – some people are happy being hated, but your love shouldn’t be based on reciprocity.
- Believing it’s possible – Jesus wouldn’t ask you to do something that was impossible even with His help (Matthew 19:26).
In summary, you do have to love everybody – including those you hate. It won’t be easy, but it’s definitely possible. Your Father expects more of you because you’ve willingly chosen to follow Him. Don’t pick and choose what you want to obey if you truly believe the Bible (as a whole) is more than just a book.