Children of your father in heaven

Why loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us is so important

The statement that titles this piece comes from the mouth of Jesus in Matthew 5 when he is teaching what we know as the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus says that if we are going to be like God, and live in a manner that makes it clear we are his offspring, it’ll be because we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. This will make us like him because he too ‘makes his sun rise on bad and good alike and sends rain both on the upright and on the unjust’.

God doesn’t withhold good things from people because they are bad—God’s provision is for one and all, regardless of what we have or haven’t done. And if we want to be his children and part of his kingdom, we need to live our life towards others in the same way.

Though it may be ‘natural’ to hate our enemies, that’s not God’s way. We are not to allow other people’s attitudes towards us move us away from behaving in a loving manner towards them.

What is saddening to me as I reflect on this passage is how many people, as a result of Christians not following Jesus’ teaching here, think God is a divisive, even hateful figure who only loves and does good things for those who are believers or who behave in a certain way.

All too many of us who carry the name of Christ have alienated those who are different from us, and so caused people to assume that God is the same as us. We’ve separated ourselves from ‘others’ rather than welcoming them, coming across as though we’re superior or better than them. In effect, we’ve hated those who don’t share our beliefs, making them our ‘enemies’, rather than loving them, praying for them, and embracing them.

I know it’s a crazy idea but maybe, just maybe, people might have a higher regard for God if we, his children, actually lived and acted a little bit more like him. Most people’s perception of God is shaped by those who claim to know and serve him. For people’s perception of God to change, we need to change and reflect him better. If you want to know why the new Pope is so popular, the answer is simple. He’s doing the things Jesus would do, acting in a God-like manner. You may not believe in God, but it is hard to argue with someone who so clearly and demonstrably loves people and serves them, regardless of who they are or what they’ve done.

It needs to be emphasised too that love is never passive. It’s much more than merely not hating those who are different from us or opposed to us. Love towards our ‘enemies’ is more than just an attitude of our mind—though it does start there; it is a way of life that has practical implications. Love always acts, reaches out, embraces, and, where necessary, forgives. And that’s what we must do to those who disagree with us, oppose us, criticise us, mock us, and yes, even persecute us. That’s what being ‘children of your father in heaven’ is all about. We include, welcome, serve, and bless everyone—and in doing so become not just God’s children, but his very hands; we become Christ to the world around us.

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

—Teresa of Avila (1515–1582)

How I read

American Hustle