The urge to make people do and say and act the way you want them—because it is good for them, because it is right—is the beginning of destruction. Like a gentle snowfall on the mountain slopes, it brings an avalanche. The thought may arise that if someone even disagrees with me on what I hold dear, on what is obviously the only reasonable way to think, then that makes them not just wrong but evil. Obviously evil. Because I am right and what I do and what I say and how I act is good. Therefore, any opposition to me by definition is evil. And it is okay to hate evil. Therefore I can hate you because you are evil. And therefore you are no longer my neighbor. And therefore the commandment to love my neighbor does not apply to you. I do not have to do to you what you would do to me. I can kill you.
If you wind up at hate, you’ve taken a wrong turn. This should be obvious.
If you un-neighbor those you disagree with, you are, in the name of doing what is right, in the name of opposing evil, becoming the very evil you abhor.
We belong to God; he bought us when we were broken and he loves us because of what he’s going to do with us, because of what we will become because he is now in our lives.
Therefore, God defines neighbor in the broadest way possible. It includes absolutely everyone: even those human beings who are the most horrible, the most deserving of our contempt.
Loving those who love us is simple. Anyone can do that. And that’s how most people think about it. We love our friends, we love our family, we love nice people, we love people who have dogs, we love grandmas who give their children candy from their purses. We love those who help the disabled and elderly. Of course we love the kind-hearted.
Unless they betray us or in some way hurt us, we love the people we come in contact with.
War and conflict are a regular part of our world and unfortunately too often part of our individual lives. People have hurt us; people have hurt those we love. People have weird beliefs, weird thoughts, say harsh things that make us angry. They vote for jerks. They have outrageous and stupid points of view. They believe crazy things. They put ketchup on their scrambled eggs.
The hard thing is that God asks us to love those awful people the same way God loves us: unconditionally. Despite how we feel about them. Despite what they have done to us and those whom we care about. Despite what they think. Worse, he expects us to love those who hate us, to love those who persecute us, to love those who actively seek to harm us, to love those who have and do hurt us and continue to hurt us without remorse. Because that’s how God “so loves the world.” (John 3:16-17)
Remember: while Jesus’ life ebbed from him, as he writhed in agony on the cross, with his last breath, he asked God to forgive those who were torturing and killing him.
This is inhuman behavior. God asks us to be like Jesus. He’s demanding the impossible of us. The unfortunate thing, from our perspective, is that “my neighbor” includes the person I most despise, my worst enemy, my nightmare. I have to love the guy across the street who plays his music too loud. The guy on the next block with all the signs in his yard for political candidates I think are evil. That woman at my crappy job who keeps trying to get me to buy essential oils from her.
We are told to submit to those who have wrong thoughts, wrong attitudes, wrong actions. To be servant to all. Just like Jesus:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. (Matthew 5:38-42)
What God asks is not easy. It goes against a lot of our preconceptions, of what seems obvious. It stands against the way of the world.