"Lots of 'enemies' do not deserve that status, as Jesus tried to illustrate with the Samaritans. But of course sometimes we do have actual enemies who both wish us harm and are working actively against us. Even so, however, the relationship with our enemies is rarely one-sided. Because 'love your enemies' is a command rarely put into practice, the chances are pretty good that if we have true enemies, we have acted in ways that have kept that enmity going. It's even possible that we were the ones who actually started it.

"In my experiences as a conflict mediator in Atlanta, I saw sworn enemies come to the table on a judge's orders and leave at peace with one another. What happened? They simply had a chance to clear the air. Each listened to the hurts and desires of the other, without lawyers or other group members to keep the enemy image alive. They saw each other as human beings, acknowledged their part in the harm caused, and — to greater or lesser degrees — forgave each other. They didn't necessarily leave as friends, but they were no longer enemies.

"As I've been trying to illustrate in these pages, this is more than just personal work. It is God's work or, more pointedly, it is God working in and through us. While God can penetrate any barrier, God's MO is to use us to take down as many barriers as possible, allowing God's love to flow unimpeded. Especially if we have taken the name of 'Christian,' when we designate someone as an enemy, we have also declared that person to be an enemy of Christ. So check your enemies against the enemies of Christ in the Gospels. Sinners were not enemies of Jesus. In fact, he got in a lot of trouble for being their friend. Religious heretics and those of different racial and ethnic groups were not enemies of Jesus, as the Samaritan examples show. Neither did Jesus go around condemning the Romans. He even shared his last meal with Judas.

"If your enemy was not an enemy of Jesus, that person cannot be your enemy either. That's not to say we can't get out of the way if she throws something or even end a relationship entirely when violence looms. When the people of his own hometown tried to throw him over a cliff in Luke 4:29, Jesus got out of there fast. You should, too. That is to say that if you return an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth, you are putting up barriers for Christ's love.

"But we don't need to love our enemies only for their sake, or even just for the sake of their souls. There are times, after all, when God seems to us like our enemy. We don't always admit it, even to ourselves, but there are times, especially when tragedy strikes, that we'd like to haul off and punch God in the nose. The Psalms are full of many such outcries, when it seems that the wicked get everything and the righteous get thrown under a bus. Constantly. Most of the book of Job is just such a cry from an innocent guy with all sorts of tire marks from that bus, calling God to account.

"If we have practiced loving our enemies — not feeling warm and fuzzy toward them, but helping them out of the ditch when they're in trouble — then we are in less danger of abandoning our faith when it seems like God has become our enemy. When we've learned to help even those who wish us harm and have kept praying for our worst enemies, even from the bunker where we now have to hide, we are much more likely to keep at least the rudiments of faith."