“If you slow down or stop the convoy to avoid running over a child, you will be responsible for your fellow soldiers getting attacked. I hope you understand your duty.” The commander’s words stung me. I was 23 years old, deploying to the Iraq war as a combat medic. This was the mandatory safety briefing for the next day’s 4am convoy into an active war zone in Iraq.
The commander went on to describe a tactic the enemy used to interrupt the American invasion of Iraq. They would push Iraqi children in front of military convoys; when the trucks slowed or stopped to avoid hitting the children, the enemy would attack the last trucks in the convoy. Being at the end of the convoy made the soldiers sitting ducks, unable to move forward to get away and with no other trucks behind them they were easily ambushed. The commander barked over the voices of a hundred soldiers in the tent “I repeat, if you slow the convoy to avoid harming a child, you will be responsible for your battle buddies getting ambushed. If anybody isn’t able to do their duty and protect their battle buddies, stand up now and identify yourself.”
That was the longest night of my life.
I laid in my cot, tears streaming down my cheeks and prayed “God help me.” The faith I was raised on said this was okay, to take a life for my country was to take a life for God. I was a third generation Army veteran, my family culture said this was fine. But everything in me said I couldn’t take the life of a child if I had to. How could I choose which life to protect? Or Which life to save? In the middle of the dark, I heard God’s voice. “But I love them, Diana.”
Something broke inside of me in relief. I knew God's voice. God was asking me to love my enemies. But now God? In middle of a war?
I call that night, my desert baptism. Because everything I loved and even the things I called good went under the water to die. God asked me to give up my rights, even the “rightness” my faith taught me . My right to put my life first, my right to protect my life at all costs, my right to violence, my right to put my country and my loved ones ahead of everyone else. Because in order to come alive to Christ we have to die to ourselves. Even the parts that we hold as good.
I don’t think Jesus commanded us to love our enemies because he wanted to hurt us. Or that he doesn’t realize that the world is violent and scary. He lived in a time with gruesome death and fully understands how it feels to fear for our lives. I believe he asked us to Love our enemies because our lives depend on it. Our real lives, the one we live with Christ as citizens of heaven. The ones that moth and rust cannot destroy. The lives that Luke 6:38 tells us that if we won’t “give up our lives” we’ll actually lose them.
Loving our enemies is the path to being free to fully love God. You can’t hate, who God loves, and God loves people so much he went to the cross for all of us. He asks us to love our enemies because it's the way to living a whole, free and abundant life with Christ.
The kind of love that makes people sit up and notice, scrunch up their eyebrows and say in disbelief “They can’t be loving THAT person? No one does that!”
This loving our enemies It's how we die to ourselves, and come alive to Christ. To a new kingdom where lions lie down with lambs and a calf will eat alongside a lion.( Isaiah 11:6-9 message) God is saying when he gets his way completely... heaven, our worldly natures are completely transformed.“Neither animal nor human will hurt or kill on on my holy mountain. The whole earth will be brimming with knowing God-Alive, A living knowledge of God ocean-deep, ocean wide.” Is 11:9 (MSG)
Saying “yes” to God to love my enemies in the war, didn’t kill me. It made me come fully. It transformed my ability to love the people that I was taught to see as an enemy in my city, my own neighborhood and country. Choosing to love my enemies meant I was free from seeing people across the political or religious divide as “Other”. Love no longer required agreement.
So how do we do this stuff?
We practice. We put the words of Jesus into action, so we can be doers instead of hearers of this kind of Love.
Start by trusting someone who isn’t ready to trust you yet. Choose to love someone who is from the other side of the trenches by listening and really seeking to understand them. Love is infectious, especially God’s love for people. You might find yourself filled up with something new yourself.
I don’t know about you, but I want to bank everything I have on something that won’t ever fail, even when I do. Even when life feels like one set back after another. That decision in the desert, was God giving me something that will never fail me. Loving your enemies isn’t trendy, it's not going to make your life easier and you might lose people. But here’s what I found out in war, that is more true today than it ever was before; Love. Never. Fails.
I had grown up memorizing Jesus’s command to “love our enemies” I knew it was truth. But culture and faith had taught me to live like my enemies lives were disposable. I memorized the ten commandments growing up and knew Jesus Commanded us to Love our enemies.
Here’s the thing, God didn’t didn’t confront my bad theology in the desert, God confronted my lack of Love. When Jesus Commanded us to Love our enemies, it wasn’t an extra thing to do when we get around to it. It's part of dying to ourselves, and coming alive to being like Christ. I believe its a mirror to reflect back to us our surrender and our transformation to look like Christ.., of how we LIVE out the ways of Christ. Our trust in him.
I think the enemy-love of Jesus is the wildest love the world can experience. It allows us to listen to people that we ignored or dismissed before. People don’t have to agree with my faith, my politics, how I parent or do marriage for them to know that I see them as valuable because I haven’t separated myself from them. That's the transforming love of God in action.
Diana is no stranger to pain and the reality that our world desperately needs to be remade. As a former Iraq War Army Combat Medic and a sexual assault nurse examiner, Diana has committed her life to staring pain in the face and choosing to love anyway, to lean in, and to remake the world around her. Diana is the author of the book Waging Peace. She lives on the shores of Lake Superior with her Ethiopian-American family who shares the love of mountain biking and competitive card games. To connect with her further, please visit her website or follow her on Instagram andTwitter.