I started this post the day Ian Brady, the so called “Moors Murderer”, died. I was prompted by the headlines claiming to express what they thought we were all thinking:
Burn in Hell. Rot in Hell. Hell is too good for him.
I didn’t post in the end. I’m not sure why. Maybe I didn’t want to add to all the noise of everyone else. And many people said what I wanted to say, but much better than I ever could.
I was moved again to try to write something meaningful and coherent when I saw this comment following a “let’s get the bastards” type Facebook post following the recent terror attack in London:
Final solution comes to mind…
Such a loaded phrase. Let’s exterminate “them”. We’ve put up with “them” for long enough. Final solutions tend to kill millions of people who are not “them” and leave the problems still intact. Final solutions make us “them”.
Inconveniently for followers of Jesus there are no “them”. If you are without sin, then you can cast the first stone. Holy people were told they needed to be born again before they could see or understand the Kingdom of Heaven. When I seek an enemy who I can curse and tie the noose for their hanging, Jesus says
“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. From Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount
Jesus projects a Moses like authority: “But I say”; “But I tell you”. Jesus preached that God is reconciling the world to him. Sinners, saints and all those in between are called to draw near and taste to see that the Lord is good. No one is deemed “unworthy” of redemption and inclusion. For preaching this and other messages of love Jesus was executed under the equivalent of anti terror laws. In the eyes of his society, he was one of “them”.
It is an uncomfortable command because it is rooted in a gospel calling me to die to a self who settles everything through violence and division and marginalisation. It calls me to follow the blueprint of God who is active in making his enemies his friends and who offers every “them” a path out of being “them”.
The story of Jonah is about this exact thing. God tells him to go to Ninevah and tell them to repent or He will destroy them. Jonah thinks, “It’s about time” and promptly heads off on holiday in the opposite direction. God has other plans and steers him straight back to his enemies. Jonah is dismayed to find that his enemies accept his message and declare a period of national repentance. This upsets Jonah even more. Why would God save these miserable people?
Because, apparently, he wants to.
Because this commandment is so hard, it is difficult for us to imagine what it would look like in practice. It isn’t about giving evil a free pass or the benefit of the doubt. It isn’t about being less vigilant. It is about recognising that when we embed people in the status of enemy it makes them a powerful force in our lives, which is what they really wanted in the end.
To offer love to the world as God loves forces us to rise above our pain, the slavery that eternal grieving causes us to endure and the paralysis that stops us from engaging in a world that so needs to know God’s love. It forces us to take seriously living in a kingdom of light that is so better than the one of darkness.
I suspect Jesus would shock us with what he would say to Ian Brady and the terrorists. He would shock us with weeping for their victims. He would weep too for the perpetrators whose damaged hearts and minds spurred them on. He would weep for their enslavement to sin and death.
That is why I need God’s grace too because inside me is a tabloid headline writer waiting to get out and scrawl “hang them all”. And not just in response to Ian Brady or terrorists.They write these headlines about the person who upset me at a PCC meeting or splashed me as they drove past or who criticised my blog post. The “enemies” we rage against most are the mundane ones we encounter every day.
Jesus teaches us that hate is just that: hate. It doesn’t do anything but make us hate. It produces nothing of light or value.
The rejection of hate can propel us forward to see how we can better protect the vulnerable, to recognise the dangerous and compassionately deal with people in the grip of a darkness we find hard to understand. When we do this, we somehow recover the humanity of us all.