At the very heart of their [early Christians'] view of reality was a man who died for his enemies, praying for their forgiveness. Reflection on this could only lead to a radically different way of dealing with those who were different from them. It meant they could not act in violence and oppression toward their opponents.
Timothy Keller: The Reason for God, pg 20-21
Keller comes to the crux of the matter when it comes to dealing with others.
So often, Christians want to "demonize" someone who is different. We believe we must shun those we call "sinners". We believe we must devastate our opposition and help our "side" win.
Yet, how different is this from the man/God we claim to follow?
Even a cursory glimpse at Jesus' life shows no tendencies in Him to do such a thing. Jesus ate and drank with those who were considered "sinners." He was called a drunkard and a glutton for doing so. He was criticized because some of their unholiness was bound to rub off on Him. Yet, time and again, Jesus turned the tables on those who criticized him. Doctors don't go to people who are well.
Jesus never demonized His enemies. He never admonished the Father to destroy them or allow them to burn in hell. From the cross, He looked at those who were murdering Him, and Jesus spoke, "Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do." Jesus put into practice His own teaching spoken on the mountain (or on the plain depending upon which Gospel you read), "Love your enemies and bless those who persecute you."
I know it is human nature to hate your enemy. I know it is human nature to fight those we disagree with. I know it is human nature to hold grudges on those who have wronged us and become our enemies. Yet, as Christians, we are called to rise above common, human nature. We are called to grasp and hold God's nature, Christ's nature. The nature of forgiveness. The nature of humility. The nature of unconditional love.
How hard this is!
The U.S. is at war with terrorists. Most of them embrace radical Islam. Osama bin Ladin is perhaps the most hated man with many in our nation. What would happen if the president of the United States--be it George Bush a few years ago or Barak Obama now--stood up and said, "We are a nation built upon Christian principles. We are offering our forgiveness to Osama bin Ladin, and we will be praying for God's blessing upon him." How well do you think that will go over?
Yet, there are many in our country who wish to call us a Christian nation. How Christian are we? How well do we embrace and put into practice the teachings of the One who has called us and claimed us as His own?
How many families are torn apart by argument and anger? How many fathers refuse to talk to sons because of bull-headedness? How many mothers are estranged from daughters because of pettiness? How many churches become divided over meaningless issues (at least in the big picture of things)? How many of us hold onto our anger, our frustration, our pain that another caused us? How many of us absolutely refuse to consider that another person is just as much a child of God as we are? How many of us absolutely refuse to consider that God wants even those children of His who have committed heinous crimes to come to Him?
It's easier to hate. It's easier to gnash one's teeth. It's easier to hold onto every wrong and every slight that we have experienced.
"It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave." --Matthew 20:26-27
What a radically different world it would be if Jesus' followers actually tried to do what He said. What a radically different place our churches would be. What a magnificent vision of the future to hold onto as we strive to put such a thing into practice.