Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Real Problem

I recently spent some time with a dear friend who has been deeply offended in two very diferent ways. My friend had been treated terribly by a person in business here in our city. The business person took money and never delivered the services promised. This caused a huge delay in a project and the cancelation of an important trip. Needless to say, my friend wanted nothing more to do with the person who failed to deliver. My friend's conclusion was that this was a person with a severe character flaw. My friend is right.

A little while later the unethical business person entered into a deep business partnership with my offended friend's best friend who is also a relative. The friend and relative did this already knowing the story about the failure to deliver. So, the unethical enemy was now a close associate and friend of my offended friend's friend and relative. Can you follow the pain? If this has ever happened to you, you can follow it and feel it. My friend could not believe that their friend and relative became so close with their enemy. it was as if the first pain was small compared to this second pain.

My friend decided to stay completely away from all involved. My friend asked me how a friend could do such a thing. Since I could follow the pain, I said it was much more common than most people believed. It happens all the time and God permits it and does not explain exactly why. At least He has not yet explained it to me.

I guess we all wish our closest friends would stay away from anyone and everyone who hurts us. We hope that others will feel our pain, make a judgment and stay away. People who have gone through a divorce or have been fired from a job know this feeling. When this has happened to me what I wanted was for my enemy to be isolated from those who were my friends. That is what I wanted until I thought a little more deeply about this everyone staying away thing. On the surface it may be good for me but it may not be good for everyone and God is about everyone not just me.

Jesus was certainly God's friend and we (all of us) were God's enemies. Jesus could have stayed away from us with good reasons. Instead, He came and lived among us as a friend. God wanted Him to. God sent Him. Perhaps therein lies the difference. God and Jesus trusted each other with this being close to an enemy thing. Something in God reaches out in ways that are still very strange to me.

I have had to ask myself, what would it take for me to be O.K. with my friend being the friend of my enemy? I think I would need to know that my friend trusted me enough to believe what I said really happened and and agree that it was wrong. I think I would need to know that my friend would never knowingly add to my pain by agreeing with or enjoying what was done to me while in the company of the one who hurt me. I think I would need to know that my friend was motivated by something more than self interest in the relationship with my enemy. I would hope my friend would understand my pain enough to reassure me that they were being led of God to be a friend to my enemy and they would stay away the moment God said they should.

As I listened to my friend speak of the enormous pain that was washing over their soul, I remembered my own experiences of seeing friends enjoying people who had been and still were enemies to me. I told my friend to take their eyes off the friend and the enemy and put their eyes back on Jesus who had been their friend when they were God's enemy. I told my friend to ask Jesus what they should or should not do toward the friend and relative. I honestly don't know of a set way to handle this situation except to seek Jesus each day and be willing to let Him teach us how this can work for good in all of our lives. I do believe there is a combination of some going toward the enemy and others going away. Jesus knew when to go toward and when to move away. He still does and He still guides His children.

Jesus has already been clear about our enemies--Love them and bless them. I think the reason for this command from Jesus is based on the fact that the only hope for our enemy is to get at the root of what drives them to be an enemy. What drives any of us to sin or be an enemy is the a failure to receive God's love deeply into our lives so we will not need to hurt others to get what we want. As far as I can tell, Jesus gave no specific word to us about what to do with a friend who is a friend to our enemy. He gave no word but He certainly lived the example. He stayed close to them unless they tried to turn Him against His Father. He would have none of that and His friends and His enemies knew it. If I knew my friends were still that loyal to our relationship it would certainly help.

I now know that what my friend and my enemy need from me is to wish them well in real and tangible ways. The only true "wellness" comes from receiving from God and His love. Most of the time that receiving must come from someone close to the one who is not receiving. My enemy needs someone close who loves God deeply. Since most of my closest friends are deeply in love with God, it would make sense that God might ask one of my freinds to stay close to someone like my enemy.
it makes sense if I am thinking "big picture" and not just "my picture."

My enemy will only be my enemy for as long as they fail to receive from God what they need to stop. The day they receive from God in Jesus what they lack which caused their behavior toward me, they will not want to be my enemy any longer and they, too, will hear Jesus say "Love your enemy."

Maybe my friend needs to be close to my enemy so that moment can be made easier if it happens. If it never happens and my enemy ends up forever God's enemy then I am sure I will be glad my friend was close-- Close enough to my enemy to speak of God's love because I was not able to be close enough to say it myself.

There will be a day when there will be no enemies to love and bless. There will be a day when there will be no friends who hurt us by staying close to those who hurt us. For now we will have to allow our friends to make their choices for good or bad reasons.

It is never easy to be a friend in the world. It was never easy for Jesus.

In John 15 Jesus calls us friends and then sends us out into the world to love people who still hate him. This is hard thing to do and we must be careful never to agree with Jesus' enemies about essential things about Jesus. We must, however, be close enough to Jesus' enemies to gently and clearly say "You really don't understand Him and you did mistreat Him and so did I. I admitted I was wrong and you need to do the same."

In the end what I want from my friends is to know that the enemy cannot manipulate them away from the relationship with me. I need to allow my friends to be wrong because I , too, am often wrong in what I do or do not do. I need to know my friend is really a friend and the enemy cannot change that. If the enemy tried to change that fact, I would hope that would be the line my friend would not cross. It was certainly the line Jesus would not cross.

I hope my offended friend can find the strength from Jesus to love the enemy. I hope my friend can find the strength from Jesus to love the friend and relative who may or may not be making a serious mistake in joining in a close relationship with someone who really does hurt people and has a character flaw. We would do well, however, to remember Jesus kept Judas close to the end and even Judas played a part that God controlled for good.

I told my friend I understood this pain. I do. I told my friend that only Jesus could direct through this kind of complexity. I told my friend to abide and ask for wisdom. My friend and I were drawn together by this challenge of faith. This kind of pain leaves one with a kind of weariness and hurt that is hard to describe unless it has been felt. If there is any hope at all for any of us it is that God still loves us when we complicate things and cause pain. There is always hope because no one can manipulate God away from us and the day will soon come when this enemy thing will be over.

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