On this day every year, we remember a tragic day in our nation’s history. It will always be a day etched into my mind, that each year begs the “where were you?” question. While most Americans watched the day unfold in the morning, I watched the towers collapse late in the evening Korean time. I was in South Korea on a temporary deployment to train new and upcoming supervisors, when one of my colleagues came into my room and told me that I really needed to turn on the television. From that moment, we were glued to the Armed Forces Network for the rest of the evening, as we too watched in horror and sadness.
Thirteen years have come and gone since that moment which dramatically altered the course of history– and we are very much still a nation at war because of, in part, the events that unfolded on that day.
Often when we speak of events like 9-11 or the current crisis with ISIS, those of us from my camp obviously point to Jesus’ command that we love our enemies. Often (and this is truly ironic) we (I am included in that) dilute the idea of enemy love to simply mean we refuse to kill them or use violence against them. However, refusing to kill enemies is only a small part of how Jesus taught we ought to treat them– he goes on to say that we should actively bless and pray for them! The Apostle Paul reiterates this principle by teaching the early church that they must not “repay evil with evil but repay evil with good”, meaning it’s not enough to passively love enemies– because a passive love wouldn’t truly be love at all.
And so we are commanded to bless them. Pray for them. Repay their evil with good.
This is precisely why the nonviolent teachings of Christ are anything but pacifism– they aren’t passive at all.
Love is always active.
The more I reflect on this, the more sad I am that we as Christians so rarely talk about praying for our enemies. We debate killing them, we complain that our national leaders aren’t doing enough to stop them, we talk strategy on ways we can contain or isolate them them…
We do everything BUT say, “hey, let’s pray for them.”
It’s quite sad, really. We pray for everyone else, but not our enemies?
We pray when we need to find a job, we pray when our loved ones are sick, we pray for those who are victims of injustice… but we don’t pray that our enemies– the perpetrators of injustice– will have their hearts softened?
I am still a relatively traditional Christian on two fronts: (a) I believe that prayer is often the most effective tool a Christian has and (b) that we’re called to be obedient to God even if that is hard or involves self-denial. Why even I myself have chronically failed to pray for, and bless my personal enemies or our national enemies, I have no idea– other than I fail miserably at times. However, as I continue attempting to be a force on the American Christian landscape pointing people back to the radical message of Jesus, I pray that we will recover a holistic understanding of what enemy love looks like– it must not be passive.
Love never is.
And so today, on the anniversary of 9-11, we must pray for our enemies. We must pray for every ISIS soldier and pray for every terrorist around the world who wishes us harm. We pray that their hearts would be soft, that they would repent, and that they would one day be reconciled and restored instead of destroyed.
And yes, we even pray that God would bless them, as crazy as I admit that sounds.
We do it not because it is easy.
Not because it is our natural instinct.
Not because it even makes sense.
We do it simply because stand or fall, we want to follow Jesus wherever he takes us.