You might have to google that. Snidely Whiplash, I mean. He’s an old character. (Is 1959 old?) He’s the arch-enemy of Dudley Do-Right, the Mountie on The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. He’s also described as a stereotypical villain, the antagonist, the bad guy, the foe, the adversary and a host of other things that we’d recognize simply as “the enemy.”
So what is an enemy, really?
Really. Think about that. I have a feeling that we throw that word around a lot and use it when we don’t need to. And I don’t think it’s just a “who,” but a “what,” also.
I often say that time is my enemy. Not just because there never seems to be enough time or that it passes too quickly (or too slowly, as the case may be), but because it seems to me that time is doing it on purpose. Yes, that’s right, it feels like it’s intentional, like time is speeding up or slowing down in order to mess with me.
Yes, I know what that sounds like, but haven’t you ever had that feeling about something that couldn’t possibly be real, but it sure seems that way to you? Like the weather. You make plans for something and then the weather changes and suddenly it’s raining on your bbq or snowing on your baseball game and it just feels like the weather’s out to get you. It couldn’t possibly, could it? But it sure feels like it.
Exactly. It’s your perception.
So what informs your perception that someone is your enemy? Is it personal experience, interaction, conversation, engagement and discernment? Or is it what others say, media reports, word of mouth, gossip, innuendo and the inevitable assumptions?
Please don’t think I’m your enemy now because I said that. If we’re honest, we’re all guilty of it at some time or another. And we’re especially susceptible to the fear that comes with ignorance of culture and nationality and we can be guilty of huge assumptions then.
What is an enemy, really?
The word’s derived from inimicus, a latin word meaning “not friend.” And that sounds sad to me. But it does remind me that “enemy” is a loaded word. It’s not just about an opponent or someone who disagrees or stands against what you stand for, we imbue an enemy with all sorts of negativity and make them the villain. After all, we’re right and they’re not. There’s enmity between us, in fact. That’s why we’re enemies.
But wait a minute. Let’s go back to “not friend.” Don’t you think it’s worthwhile going to the trouble to be someone’s friend so that they won’t be your “not friend?” We could get to know them better, understand them better and support them in being who they are. We could also, because we’re friends remember to share us with them and challenge them when necessary. After all, true friends speak truth to their friends.
Yes, yes, you might say, that all sounds very warm and fuzzy but it’s just not that simple. And I’d say, yes it is and that’s why it’s so difficult. We’ve learned to identify an enemy and then respond appropriately - or, more often, entirely inappropriately - to an enemy. But “you cannot inject new ideas into a man’s head by chopping it off; neither will you infuse a new spirit into his heart by piercing it with a dagger,” Gandhi said.
You need to love them, Jesus said. Love your enemy (Matt. 5:44). Don’t fear them, don’t fight them, love them. And, says Jesus, look, I’ll show you how. Engage them and get to know them, try to understand them and help them understand you. Jesus knows that’s not easy, but when you build a relationship with love, you don’t see an enemy, you see a person, a child of God worthy of love, just like you.
Some are more difficult to love than others. Friends are easy, “not friends” are more challenging. But loving them isn’t about the response you get, it’s about you loving them. Jesus doesn’t love us with the expectation of changing us. Jesus shows us how to love others because that’s what changes us.