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Finding Good in Our Enemies

Amy Oden

Church of the Resurrection GPS Insights

In Strength to Love (1963), Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., addresses the difficulty of loving our enemies: “Second, we must recognize that the evil deed of the enemy-neighbor, the thing that hurts, never quite expresses all that he is. An element of goodness may be found even in our worst enemy.” The word “enemy” is a strong word and it’s easy to assume that I don’t have any. Until I remember the folks I scoff at or dismiss or call crazy or hold in contempt, especially during presidential elections.

Science has revealed we are prone to “confirmation bias,” paying attention only to the pieces of information that confirm what we already think about a person or group and ignoring anything that challenges our bias. So, we tend to vilify a whole group with whom we disagree, to think the worst about our enemy.

For me, responding to Dr. King’s invitation to find good “even in our worst enemy,” requires an act of imagination. I have to actively work to imagine that person’s hopes and dreams, life struggles and wounds, deep loves and disappointments.

If I cannot find even a tiny morsel of good, then it is I who have failed to sufficiently imagine what might be true, beyond my perception or logic or confirmation bias. If I truly believe that God is present and working in all things, then God must be present and working in that person or group. It’s not that God’s not there, it’s that I fail to see it.

When I can exercise my muscle of imagination, then sometimes, not always, I have “eyes to see” God’s life in the world around me, as Jesus describes, even in my enemy.

One starting imagination practice is to picture yourself on your knees before God, however you image God, in a posture of surrender and openness. Allow God’s light and love to pour over you, permeating you with mercy and grace. Now picture an enemy kneeling next to you, also in a posture of surrender and openness before God, also receiving God’s light and love, mercy and grace. You do not have to love that enemy or even speak in this visualization. Just allow yourself to imagine both yourself and that person equally before God and receiving love.

Admittedly, this may be really hard! However, we can lean into the source of love, God’s own heart, rather than try to summon it on our own. Sometimes the best I can do is trust that God is fully loving that person or group. Then, maybe, just maybe I can ride on those coattails of love. As a baby step, a starting place.

May sacred imagination embolden us to love. Amen.


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