A Higher StandardPosted: February 23, 2014
Jesus sure didn’t sugar coat the gospel. He put it right out there. Grow up! Love your enemies! Golly Jesus do you really mean that? I keep hoping maybe Jesus will take it back. As our prayer of confession said this morning, “There are people I don’t want to love, or help, or understand. They have hurt me. They make me angry.”
And how does Jesus respond to me? “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up.” The problem is Jesus calls us to a higher standard. Taking an eye for an eye only leaves the whole world blind, but loving enemies is not our natural reaction. When someone goes after us, the old fight flight response takes over. Go ahead, make my day. Don’t get mad, get even. But no! Jesus says, control your temper, count to ten and then be kind in return.
WHAT KINDNESS FOR AN ENEMY?
I want you to stop right now and think about someone with whom you have a hard time. Maybe someone who has done you wrong, or hurt your feelings, gives you a hard time every chance they get. What do you most dislike about that person? Now think about what kindness could you perform toward that person? What do they do that irritates you the most? Now I’m not talking about making a chocolate pie like in the film the help. What genuine kindness could you direct toward that person with whom you have a hard time? It doesn’t have to be a big kindness. It doesn’t have to be an invitation to let them walk all over you – just some little gesture of love or understanding you might offer to that difficult person.
GET THE BEST OF EVIL BY DOING GOOD
Paul wrote to the church in Rome: Romans 12:17-19 Don’t hit back; discover goodness in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”
20-21 Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.
ANGER DISTORTS OUR JUDGMENT
So why do we have such trouble following Paul’s advice? Because once anger gets ahold of us our perceptions and our judgment become distorted. We literally can’t see straight. And that reminds me of the story about Dave who was playing golf with his pastor.
Dave, had a terrible temper, and he was playing a round of golf with his pastor. After leaving three straight putts on the edge of the cup, Dave exploded. “I missed!” he screamed. “How could I miss?” With that he heaved his putter into a nearby lake, kicked a wheel on the golf cart and drove his fist into a nearby tree.
The pastor was shocked. “I have never seen such a terrible display of anger,” he said to Dave. “Don’t you know that God disapproves of angry outbursts like that? I have heard that there are angels whose one assignment is to search out people who express their anger so ferociously and to send lightning bolts from heaven to burn them to a crisp.”
HOW COULD I MISS?
Dave was embarrassed. Heeding the warning of the pastor, on the next few holes, he managed to control himself. However, on the last three holes his putting failed him again. When the last putt veered off to the right just in front of the hole, Dave went crazy. “I missed!” he screamed. “How could I miss?” He broke his club across his knee and threw it as far as he could, he kicked up several large clumps of dirt on the edge of the green, and once more drove his fist into a nearby tree.
Suddenly the sky grew dark as an ominous cloud passed over. There was a clap of thunder and an awesome burst of lightning-and the pastor was burned to a crisp!
HOW COULD I MISS?
An eerie silence filled the golf course, and all that could be heard was a quiet voice from heaven: “I missed! How could I miss?”
LOSE THE IMAGE OF AN ANGRY JUDGMENTAL GOD
Maybe that is part of the problem. God is so often portrayed as an angry God – sinners in the hands of an angry God. I think that is why our commitment to welcome everyone, no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey is so important. The proponents of the vengeful god believe that fear is more compelling that love. We need to help people lose the image of the angry vengeful, judgmental god and embrace the God of love, peace and acceptance Jesus came to proclaim. God is Love.
GIVING UP ANGER IS HEALTHY FOR US
Giving up the need to be angry and get even not only helps to bring peace, learning to resolve our anger and acting lovingly toward others is healthy for us mentally and physically. We cannot always control the initiation of our fight flight response. As one older minister shared with me long ago, “just because we’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get us.” We can, however, decide whether or not to hold onto our anger. When we become angry our heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate increase. We are in a high state of arousal intended to help us flee or fight a threat. That state of arousal is useful for a short time until the threat is over. But when we remain angry over a long period of time, the stress of that prolonged state of arousal can begin to the damage us physically. We have also learned that prolonged exposure to anger and fear will also change our brains in ways that are not healthy.
ANGER CAN DAMAGE OUR BRAINS
As we read in the book, How God Changes Your Brain: Excessive anger or fear can permanently disrupt many structures and functions in both your body and your brain. These destructive emotions interfere with memory storage and cognitive accuracy, which in turn, will disrupt our ability to properly evaluate and respond to social situations. Anger makes people indiscriminately punitive, blameful, pessimistic, and unilaterally careless in their logic and reasoning skills. Furthermore, anger encourages your brain to defend your beliefs — be they right or wrong – and when this happens, you’ll be more likely to feel prejudice toward others. You’ll inaccurately perceive anger in other people’s faces, and this will increase your own distrust and fear. It’s an insidious process that feeds on itself, and it can influence your behavior for very long periods of time. Eventually, it will even damage important structures in your brain.
LOVING MY ENEMIES MAY BE WHAT IS BEST FOR ME
We break the cycle of fear and anger for our own physical and mental health. I don’t know about you, but I need all the memory function I can get. If fear and anger disrupt memory and cognition, then I want to let go of anger, let go of revenge, embrace Jesus’ way of peace and love. Loving my enemies may just be what is best for me. In the end I may be loving my enemy for my own physical and mental health and wellbeing.
FACE TO FACE WITH A PART OF OURSELVES WE DO NOT WANT TO OWN
So let’s get back to that person with whom we have a hard time. The individual who has done us wrong, hurt our feelings, gets their digs in at every opportunity. What do we most dislike about that soul? What irritates us the most? Often when we seek to understand what most distresses us in our enemy we come face to face with a part of ourselves we do not want to own.
WRESTLING WITH THE ANGEL
In Eyes Remade for Wonder Larry Kushner give us an insight into this healing of the rejected parts of ourselves in the Biblical character of Jacob: The angel Jacob wrestled with in Genesis chapter 32 represents a dimension of ourselves that has been rejected and labeled as “evil other.” This exiled part of ourselves comes back to haunt us and name us during the night.
HATING SOMETHING IN SOMEONE ELSE IS EASIER THAN SELF-REPROACH
And since it is still a part of ourselves we cannot bear to acknowledge, when we sense it in someone else, we are all the more frightened and angry. And often, failing to find it in someone else, we project it onto them anyway, for this deludes and comforts us into feeling that we have utterly torn it away. Hating something in someone else is easier than self-reproach.
ONLY WANTS TO BE ACCEPTED TAKEN BACK & LOVED
Once we realize that what we detest in another person only wants to be accepted, taken back, and loved, do we begin to diminish our own capacity for evil. By embracing what was never really other, we neutralize the evil. We heal and redeem it and in so doing we heal ourselves and other people around us.
HOW MIGHT WE CHANGE THE EQUATION?
So as we think about that person we do not like, who may only reflect a part of ourselves we do not want to own, what genuine kindness, gesture of love or understanding might we offer to that individual? If we disengage from our anger and reach out in love how might we change the equation? How might we change ourselves?
THE HEALING OF THE WHOLE WORLD WAITS FOR US
The healing of the whole world may be waiting for that gesture of kindness we can offer to our enemy. Our healing may be waiting for the love we can extend to that part of them that may only be a reflection of the darkness with in us. So, let’s grow up and love. The healing of the whole world waits for us.