Love Your Enemies
A Phenomenon Of Unsettled Times
Prophecy is a phenomenon of unsettled times. The Biblical prophets were horrified by war. Three Biblical prophets — Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel — knew war as inevitable. Their activity roughly coincides with the events that precede the Warring States period in Chinese history.
Jeremiah and Ezekiel were active during the time that sagacious wisdoms swept India and China. These lands are due east on the Silk Route, more or less northeast of Biblical Israel. As prophetic traditions took hold in Israel, furthermore, wisdom traditions began to emerge in Greece, which is more or less northwest.
The Book of Lamentations, a horrifying account of seige warfare and its aftermath, is attributed to Jeremiah, who was was traumatised by what he witnessed. Jeremiah was active as a prophet between 625 and 587 BCE. The Chinese sage Laozi, who is perhaps a contemporary of Ezekiel, advised against war:
Tao Te Ching, by Lao-tzu.
Trans. J. Legge, 1891
69. A master of the art of war has said, “I do not dare to be the host to commence the war; I prefer to be the guest to act on the defensive. I do not dare to advance an inch; I prefer to retire a foot. This is called marshalling the ranks where there are no ranks; baring the arms to fight where there are no arms to bare; grasping the weapon where there is no weapon to grasp; advancing against the enemy where there is no enemy.”
There is no calamity greater than lightly engaging in war. To do that is near losing the gentleness which is so precious. Thus it is that when opposing weapons are actually crossed, he who deplores the situation conquers.
The Jin states (900-200 BCE) were somewhat contemporary to the Axial Age (800-300 BCE). The war inflicted by the Jin states on Laozi’s community eventually destroyed Jin.
Hate Oppression, Love Oppressors
We can, however, refer to much more recent events. Gandhi hated the oppression of the Raj, Britain’s system used to administer India, but he could not bring himself to hate the British. In 1936 he wrote in Harijan, an English language newspaper published between 1933 and 1948…
A love that is based on the goodness of those whom you love is a mercenary affair; whereas true love is self-suffering and demands no consideration. It is like that of a model Hindu wife, Sita for instance, who loved her Rama even whilst he bid her pass through a raging fire. It was well with Sita, for she knew what she was doing. She sacrificed herself out of her strength, not out of her weakness. Love is the strongest force the world possesses and yet it is the humblest imaginable.
Martin Luther King, in his book Strength To Love, had this perspective:
“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”A tradtional Jewish perspective is recorded in the Gemara:
–Talmud Sanhedrin 39b– Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachman quotes Rabbi Yonatan… What does this mean: No one came near another during the night (Ex. 14:20)? The angels wanted to sing praise to the Holy Blessed One. God’s Reply? The work of My Hands drown and you want to praise Me in song?! God is not gladdened by the downfall of the wicked.
Marshall McLuhan was well ahead of his time when he coined the term “global village” in the early 1960s. We must seek allies by forgiving enemies. The Jewish prayerform called Shma defines this type of love. Shma literally means “listen.” shares this insight: “In our global village,” Armstrong (184) shares, “everybody is our neighbour.” He continues…
“In the last resort, this kind of ‘love’ and ‘concern for everybody’ will serve ou best interest better than short-sighted and self-serving policies.” This village metaphor is found in the portion of Shma, a Jewish prayer form taken from Deut. 11:13:
If you diligently listen to My Imperatives, the imperatives I Give you today, to love Yhvh, to serve with a full heart and with soulful intent, then will I Permit a fertile land of growth, of orchards and farms and ranches…
We only ever lease it land, in other words, we never own it.