One of the more difficult commands of Christ for his followers to get their heads around is Luke 6:27-29, “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either.”
Christ could not have meant what he said. At the very least, I don’t understand what he means. What if someone is threatening to harm my family or another innocent bystander? Am I to conclude their harm is God’s will? And what about the age-old dilemma of war?
One way to respond is to point out that Jesus is addressing individual conduct. Even though believers are sometimes subject to abuse or taken advantage of, they are to face rejection differently from the world. They are to be generous and compassionate rather than retaliating.
But what about that middle clause, “pray for those who abuse you.” What stipulations could be put on praying other than my not wanting to?
In a letter to his good friend, Dom Bede Griffiths, OSB (Order of St. Benedict), dated April 16, 1940, C. S. Lewis discusses the difficulty of praying for people we find easier to hate. He writes,
“The practical problem about charity (in our prayers) is very hard work, isn’t it? When you pray for Hitler & Stalin, how do you actually teach yourself to make the prayer real? The two things that help me are (a) A continual grasp of the idea that one is only joining one’s feeble little voice to the perpetual intercession of Christ, who died for those very men (b) A recollection, as firm as one can make it, of all one’s own cruelty wh. might have blossomed, under different conditions, into something terrible. You and I are not, at bottom, so different from these ghastly creatures.”1
It’s enough to make one respond with an incredulous, Seriously? Pray for someone like Hitler or Stalin? I’m no different from those ghastly creatures? Pray for those who abuse me?
“Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” – Romans 12:17-18.
1. Walter Hooper, ed., The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis: Books, Broadcasts, and the War 1931-1949, Vol. II (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2004), 391.