Does God Love Harmful People? Should We?

This entry is part 14 of 57 in the series Mysteries

Question Fourteen

Does God love harmful people? Should we?

One of the more difficult admonitions of Jesus to incorporate into our lives is this verse:

“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Matt 5:44

Then he gives the interesting reasoning behind this:

“For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?” Matt 5:46

In other words, he was telling his disciples that everyone loves and blesses those who love them in return. That certainly does not set anyone apart as being more loving than average. If they expected to be judged as better than their enemies they needed to go a step farther and love their enemies.

He ended with a comparison of their duties with that of God:

“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Matt 5:48

They were expected to do their duty even as God does his.

Even the stricter Old Testament backs this up:

“Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” Leviticus 19:18

Let’s be real here.  Does God really love the bad guys, even murderers, rapists and thugs? And how about us?  Aren’t there a lot of people that are beyond being loved? After all, even Jesus chased the moneychangers out of the temple.  It didn’t look like he was giving the hypocrites much love, now did it?

Again, the key to understanding God is to understand ourselves as we are in his image.

To explain this conundrum ministers have often used this phrase as an explanation.

“Hate the sin, but love the sinner.”

Still… this does not supply a satisfying direction. If someone were to steal $1000 from you it is indeed easy to hate the sin of theft. But who did the stealing?  It was the thief and without him there would be no sin to hate.

There are two things we need to understand.

(1) What loving your enemy really means.

(2) How loving your enemy benefits you.

First, to love your enemy does not mean that you love or accept what he does. It does not mean that you have to be the guy’s best friend. And, finally, it does not mean that you will not be emotionally affected by his actions.

Jesus, who was the best example we have of perfect love, did not accept the actions of his enemies, nor is there one example of him hanging out with them. He was also not beyond being emotionally affected by them. We mentioned his anger at the hypocrites in the temple but Matthew; Chapter 23 tells us that he was emotionally exasperated with the false teachers of his day. He wrapped up is view of them saying:

“Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?” Matt 23:33.

So, did Jesus really love his enemies that he condemned and who got under his skin?

To answer this accurately we need to first comment on point number two:

“How loving your enemy benefits you.”

It is easy to see how loving your enemy benefits the enemy, but how does it benefit you?

To answer this we must first understand how hating your enemy and feeling a grievance over what he has done causes you harm.

Woody Allen, of all people, gives us a clue as to what that harm is on a physical level. When Diane Keaton in Annie Hall asks him why he doesn’t get angry he replies,  “I don’t get angry, I grow a tumor instead.

Numerous studies have indicated that negative emotions and emotional suppression does indeed contribute to health problems. For instance, a Finnish study reports in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics that people with a diagnosed inability to express emotions, have much higher levels of inflammatory chemicals in their bodies that can lead to disease.

It is a pretty common for average people to observe and comment on the correlation between people’s emotional state and health. Most of us do not need much proof that it happens.

When we allow ourselves to be offended by someone we consider to be an enemy, or even just an irritating person, and allow ourselves to hang on to that offense and nourish it, we not only lower our resistance to disease, but the quality of our state of mind goes way downhill.

In other words, to hate our enemies is the same as choosing to be an unhappy person. How can you be unhappy if you love all people?

I know, I know, that loving some people is difficult but we get a little help from examining the Greek word for love, which is AGAPAŌ.  It is used with in a similar fashion to the modern English word, “love,” but with more inclusiveness.  Thayer’s Greek Lexicon tells us it also means “to be full of goodwill and to exhibit the same.”

We see then that the love Jesus was talking about was not limited to passionately wanting to be with someone because they are wonderful, but also extends to goodwill and friendliness.

When he said to love your enemies he was telling us to drop all harmful grievances and send then goodwill, or wish them well.

When Jesus encountered the moneychangers in the temple he found himself full of offense. If he would have done nothing he would have been in a negative state of mind. He released that negative emotion in a powerful way, but not in a manner that caused harm to his enemies. He still wanted what was best for them and if any would have befriended him afterwards he would have immediately responded with goodwill and friendship.

We must also keep in mind that his reaction to the moneychangers was a rare exception and an example that there is a time and place for all things, as written in Proverbs.

There is another important point to consider. Jesus said, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Matt 25:40

Most people read this and assume Jesus is talking about the poor, the sick and afflicted, but who is it that we really esteem as “the least” in our eyes? It’s not the poor homeless guy, but it is that person who aggravates you the most. That could be someone who has done you great harm or merely an irritating friend or spouse.

The way you treat this person who is least in your eyes is considered by Jesus the way you would treat him.

The book, A Course in Miracles puts it this way. There is, in most of our lives, one particular individual who infuriates us and seems almost impossible to love. This person is your savior, for the moment you see the Christ in him and send love or goodwill, instead of hate, you have saved yourself from a painful life of harboring grievances.

This person gives you an opportunity to become like the Master and walk in his footsteps.

Copyright by J J Dewey 2014

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