Enemy Mine

In 1992 Walter Wink wrote this about the United States: “It will be interesting, with the ending of the Cold War, to see what parade of scapegoats, enemies and barbarians are invented to carry out the national shadow.  Saddam Hussein has already performed that role splendidly.  Who will be next?” Have you ever wondered why it is so important to have enemies?  I live in Denver; we hate the Oakland Raiders.  If the Broncos have a season record of 2-14 with both wins against Oakland, it would still be a good season.  I am also a lifelong Vancouver Canucks fan.  After last year’s Stanly Cup playoffs I still find it hard to think good thoughts about Boston.

Our war on terror, at least the part that was directed against Saddam Hussein, has “officially” come to an end.  It almost seems that in preparation for an end to hostilities in Iraq we needed to find a new enemy and so the Axis of Evil was created.

Is it possible that we “need” enemies because friends tend to overlook weaknesses and give us a pass on our sinful nature?   Do enemies reveal parts of who we are, both individually and corporately, that friends would be too afraid or polite to uncover?  Is it possible that Jesus asks us to pray for our enemies because in praying for them a space is created to take a hard look are our own weaknesses and faults?

We need enemies, not because they are evil and we are good.  We need enemies because they are the only people (or nations) with the courage to ask us to look in a mirror and acknowledge who we really are.  When we own the totality of who we are conversion becomes a possibility and the kingdom of God becomes a reality, right here, right now.

Becoming what we hate

An often used sermon illustration tells a story of famed interviewer Mike Wallace, one of the original correspondents for 60 Minutes.   Wallace was asked to interview Yehiel Dinur, a principal witness at the Nuremberg war crime trials.  Upon entering the courtroom and facing Adolph Eichmann, Dinur began to tremble, wept uncontrollably, and collapsed. When Mike Wallace asked Dinur why he had collapsed, was it reliving the memories, the nightmares, and the grief?   The man answered:  "No I collapsed because I was afraid about myself.  I saw that I am exactly like him, capable of this."

It is said that after pausing for a while Wallace turned to the camera and said, "That poses a question.  Was Eichmann a monster, a mad man, or something even more terrifying?  Was he normal?”

One of the ironies of life is the ability to become the very thing we oppose.   As a society we want to stop murder so we execute murders and become murders ourselves.  I remember a time when I became so frustrated when by boys beat on each other that I hit them and told them to stop.

“The ultimate weakness of violence,” observed Martin Luther King, Jr., “is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.”

Why do we so easily fall into the trap of thinking that the cure for violence is more violence?  In his book Engaging the Powers, Walter Wink states: “We want desperately to believe that our forcible retaliation to evil is like a projectile fired from a gun that will drop evil in its tracks.  In fact, it is more like a ball thrown by a pitcher that will, as likely as not, come back at us, or over the fence.”

As a country we have been engaged in the War on Terror for more than a decade now.  It is difficult to argue that confronting violence with violence has been successful.  I cannot help but wonder what would have happened if instead of declaring a war on terror, we had pursued a path towards reconciliation and understanding of our enemy.  Would it have been easy?  Probably not.  Would it have meant fewer casualties on both sides?  Probably.