Matthew 5:43-45 You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy'. But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be the sons of your Father in Heaven. He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
Where were you on September 11, 2001? If you are like me, you probably not only recall where you were, but also what you were doing, thinking, and feeling during those horrific moments nine years ago. The heinous acts of Islamic terrorists on that fateful day traumatized a nation in a manner not known before or since. It is an onerous memory that has daily lived itself out in the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and reminds us that we do, indeed, have enemies who hate America with its Western values. And, lest you think it is only and extreme minority of Muslims who share this feeling, hark back to the cheering and celebrations in the Middle East as the people clustered around communal television sets to watch the Twin Towers collapse. That is one memory I wish I could erase.
With the recent controversy surrounding the proposed mosque at Ground Zero, the wounds inflicted on 9/11 have been opened anew. Proponents of the mosque argue that American opposition is evidence of their hatred and intolerance toward Islam; history reveals a different story. In the Muslim world, it has long been a tradition to construct a mosque where there was a great victory in war. To construct one at Ground Zero would translate to the entire Muslim world that the conquering of the United States has begun and inroads to bring down this despised country have been granted. Is this the message that we in America want to send to the world? "No!" according to the thousands of peaceful protesters who gathered recently in New York City to voice their concerns and convictions. For every single person in attendance, there are, more than likely, 100,000 Americans who agree with each one. Speaking for myself, I believe that Ground Zero is hallowed and sacred as it is the resting place for the almost 3,000 innocent men, women, and children whose lives were barbarically ended that day. The only appropriate structure to erect there is a memorial monument.
As if the Ground Zero mosque issue isn't enough to cause "bad blood" and misunderstanding, the Dove Worldwide Outreach Ministries in Gainesville, Florida, has announced their intentions to burn the Koran on the anniversary of 9/11. It is mind-boggling to think that this small congregation totaling 50 members has caused such an upheaval in Afghanistan that Muslims are burning effigies of the pastor and calling for the death of President Obama; it has even prompted a plea from General Petraus not to follow through with this as the ensuing anger could endanger the lives of American soldiers. The last I heard as I was writing this blog, the church has yet to change its mind. Not a comforting thought.
Jesus commands us to "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you", not an easy task by any means. Our natural instinct as human beings is to dislike or retaliate against those who mean us harm and we've all known individuals for whom grudges are a way of life. So, how are we, as Christians, to accomplish this? I believe that before we can love or pray for an enemy, we must first pray to see as God sees. To Him, every individual is uniquely created in His image and is worthy to be loved by that very fact alone. If we can make that spiritual stretch, to acknowledge the individuals, though they are now enslaved by false doctrines, as God's children, we move in the right direction.
To paraphrase C. S. Lewis, prayer doesn't change God, it changes us. Jesus knew that by loving and praying for our enemies, they could no longer hold sway over our lives; we would be free to live our lives to the fullest and to enjoy the abundant life He promised us. Love always trumps the darkness. Let us, then, choose to love mightily that we might be the sons and daughters of our Father in Heaven.