Sunday, July 1, 2007

And you have heard that it was said

For some time now I've been working on an essay about the difficult necessity of turning the other cheek, and how violence begets violence.

There are a lot of drafts. As if I could improve upon the book of Matthew, or the teachings of a thousand wise philosophers.

I'm reading a book now called "Strength to Love." It's a collection of some of Martin Luther King Jr's sermons. I recommend it. I'm going to excerpt here from a sermon called "Loving your enemies."

There is so much hate in this world. I don't know much, but I know you can't fight it with hate.
Probably no admonition of Jesus has been more difficult to follow than the command to "love your enemies." Some men have sincerely felt that its actual practice is not possible. It is easy, they say, to love those who love you, but how can one love those who openly and insidiously seek to defeat you? Others, like the philosopher Nietzsche, contend that Jesus' exhortation to love one's enemies is testimony to the fact that the Christian ethic is designed for the weak and cowardly, and not for the strong and courageous. Jesus, they say, was an impractical idealist.

In spite of these insistent questions and persistent objections, this command of Jesus challenges us with new urgency. Upheaval after upheaval has reminded us that modern man is traveling along a road called hate, in a journey that will bring us to destruction and damnation. Far from being the pious injunction of a Utopian dreamer, the command to love one's enemy is an absolute necessity for our survival. Love even for enemies is the key to the solution of the problems of our world. Jesus is not an impractical idealist: he is the practical realist.

The sermon goes on to delve into the difficulties and practicalities of forgiving an enemy. I found it very enlightening. And depressing, because I can't see most people actually doing it. Is our country not now engaged upon a war of vengeance?

I'll excerpt a bit more. Dr. King was speaking primarily of the civil rights movement, but the words speak to so much more. And the "non-cooperation clause," so to speak, leaves room for physical force to protect the people, and the right, when they need protecting. It would appear that I am not a complete pacifist.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. So when Jesus says "Love your enemies," he is setting forth a profound and ultimately inescapable admonition. Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies - or else? ...

To our most bitter opponents we say: "We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws, because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. ...

Jesus is eternally right. History is replete with the bleached bones of nations that refused to listen to him. May we in the twentieth century hear and follow his words - before it is too late.

1 comment:

kjpeters said...

Dr. King's words that hate multiplies hate and violence multiplies violence are exactly what has happened in Iraq.

The hard question is how, as a nation, we get past the mentality of vengence and learn to follow Dr. King's words. Only then, will we be able to achieve peace in the middle east, or anywhere else.