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October 22, 2020


Robert Bridge

There is something seriously wrong with the statement "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies". It is in direct contradiction of the teaching of Jesus who directed us to love and forgive our enemies. I realise this is OT but it even contradicts Amos, Hosea and Isaiah in that they direct us to be just, fair and merciful to all we meet. I could produce chapter and verse to justify this but it seems obvious that "Love thy Neighbour" is a universal demand on our souls and always has been.
I should add that I have been making a nuisance of myself on Theology Everywhere with the same issue - for me God's love is unconditional and therefore utterly inclusive, even of our enemies.

Jim Gordon

Hello Robert, thank you for your comment. I think there are other ways of interpreting the Psalmist's words. I don't read it as gloating, or harming his enemies. Indeed the whole tenor of the Psalm is about the Psalmist's confidence in God to accompany him in every experience of life, including those times when circumstance, other people, or systems of power threaten him. The metaphor of the spread table refers more specifically to God as host, and the Psalmist as guest, and the those who wish him harm witnessing his faith in the God who provides.
The more general point about "Love thy neighbour" is, of course, incontestable. Along with the Shema, this command sums up the whole law, said Jesus. Amongst other texts that affirm this is the parable of the Good Samaritan, Matthew 25.31ff, and Jesus whole ministry of compassionate engagement.
Love for our enemies is the more radical way of the Kingdom of God, and goes beyond the neighbour criterion. That there are enemies, those who might wish harm to others, those for whom hate is a primary motivation, those who use violence of action, words and threat to instil fear and hurt - that is part of life. The question for followers of Jesus is how we respond to those who wish us harm. When Jesus says "Love your enemies", he acknowledges that enmity is a reality we have to deal with.
Romans 12.14-21 and Matthew 5.43-48 could not be clearer. Love for one who considers herself or himself my enemy is spelt out - return good for evil; pray for those who hurt us; forgive 70x7 (which effectively means time without number).
That still leaves some hard texts in the Old Testament which stand in opposing tension to the "Love you enemies command." They cannot simply be erased. For myself they have to be interpreted in ways that understand their original meaning and look for their present application in the light of Christ. Christ is the lens through which I interpret Scripture.
As for the prophets you cite, I don't think Amos's words about justice can simply be lifted without reading the entire book which is about judgement upon Israel's enemies, and judgement and punishment on those who oppress, exploit and abuse the poor and vulnerable.
Even more troublesome are the imprecatory Psalms and the Psalms of lament, some of which are prayers for vengeance on the cruel and implacable enemies of Israel. Psalm 137 is a powerful example of rage and outrage at the atrocities committed by Israel's enemies. Again, they can't be wished away. I read them, hear the anguish of them, but do so in the light of Christ's reconciling death and resurrection. If I ask how it can be shown that God's love is unconditional and inclusive, that is my starting point: and Romans 5.10 and 2 Cor 5.17-21 are two of the first texts I would personally consider as the theological and moral basis of God's unconditional love.
Going back to psalm 23, you may have noticed I did not interpret the verse as one which prolongs or exacerbates enmity, but one which speaks of the hospitality and protective care of God. I hope all this helps a bit Robert, at least in clarifying my own interpretive stance.

Robert Bridge

Thank you for responding. You have clarified the situation for me and I agree with your interpretation of the word “enemies”. As you say, when Jesus says "Love your enemies", he acknowledges that enmity is a reality we have to deal with. However, I do feel that this leaves us with a dilemma. How do we judge that a person is our enemy and presumably unredeemable, and should we be judging people anyway? Yes, murderers and paedophiles have to be locked up, but in Christ forgiveness is not conditional, so we should forgive!
My answer to this dilemma is to make a clear distinction between motivation and practice. In Christ we are motivated to forgive our enemies and forget the harm they do, but in practice it is our duty to protect ourselves and others. Theologically this is kenosis. God absents Him/Herself from the facticity of a broken relationship and it is our calling to respond to this and bring healing and hope where there appears to be none.
The distinction between motivation and practice implies a further distinction between the unconditional forgiveness of God, which is to forgive and forget, and the conditional human response, which is to forgive and remember. You may feel to forgive and yet remember the fault is impossible, but in my experience this happens. It is something to do with moving on with a relationship as if it is not impossible, and then finding out that forgiveness and remembering the fault turns out to be a means of reconciliation. This is never easy of course, but who said life should be easy, other than the Eagles back in 1972!
I often wonder if this “as-if-ness” is how we find forgiveness for the past, courage to deal with the present and hope to face the future. Some would say “as-if-ness” is self-delusion, but it actually works. On a mundane level it is how we learn to swim or ride a bicycle! Theologically I feel it is a creative act and ethical in that it generally implies a turning from self-concern to awareness of the needs of others. For me it is related to passivity and faith, waiting on God in situations of stress. C.S.Lewis expressed this passivity and it’s resolution in the book “Surprised by Joy”.
Been reading, with some difficulty, “A Theology of Alterity” by Glenn Morrison that covers this issue of von Balthasar and the motivation/practice dichotomy. I get the impression he uses the idea of Trinitarian Praxis to fudge the issue. Might try reading it again.
Wanted to say that I was impressed by your poem - Journey in Exile - that Pavel placed on Theology Everywhere, it was pretty much my experience back in the 1960’s. I am just Methodist pew fodder in the Manchester area that developed an interest in theology.

Going to finish with five questions, think of them as rhetorical if I am imposing on your time:
Is it reasonable to make a theological distinction between motivation and practice?
Is it reasonable to assert that the unconditional forgiveness of God is to forgive and forget, and the conditional human response should be to forgive and remember?
Is “as-if-ness” in fact how the Spirit works?
Have you any idea at all what von Balthasar might mean by Trinitarian Praxis?
Is it true that God only comes to mind in the context of our ethical concern for others?

Thanks again for the response.

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