What’s All This Talk About Enemies?

Goodness-of-GodI don’t walk around thinking about enemies. That’s not a word that slips easily off my tongue. To think about enemies implies that people are out to get me, hurt me, discredit my reputation, betray me, deceive me, treat me unfairly. Are there really people out there wanting to do those things? I like to think I don’t have enemies.

For one thing, I suspect, I tend always to think I deserve what comes my way. If people don’t like me, I surely have earned it. My mother always used to counsel: “Don’t think too highly of yourself. Focus on your own wrongs first. Be careful not to blame others for your own shortcomings.” Jesus said something like this as well.

But I have been reading the Psalms pretty intensely these days. To enter the world of the Psalms is to hear lots of talk about enemies. Enemies are all over the place. In the world of the Psalms, apparently, people are out to hurt one another. They are out to tear down God’s work in the world, diminish the work of God’s people. That makes them enemies of God as well. People are laying traps to snare, hiding in the bushes, bent on ambush. The Psalms paint a picture of a pretty tough world. People are not always nice.

So what are we to make of this enemy thing? If we take our cues from the Psalms, our first step is to take care of our own faithfulness to God’s way in the world. God is a God of justice, fairness, righteousness, grace, love, goodness. That’s where our responsibility lies too. We need to make sure we are contributing as best we can to all of these things.

But still, there are indeed enemies. Some people are not fair. Some people are not good. We also understand there are dark forces out there, forces of sheer evil, people with evil intentions. When good shines out too brightly, it’s time to snuff out the light, they believe. It’s time for darkness to show its ugly face with force. That’s what evil is like.

Take a look at Psalm 17:

They have stifled all compassion;

their mouths utter proud words;

they press me hard, now they hem me in,

on the watch to bring me to the ground.

The enemy is like a lion hungry for prey,

like a young lion crouching in ambush.

You think lions are really circling around? Well, no, but that’s what it feels like when others are hemming me in, watching “to bring me to the ground,” when others have “stifled all compassion,” even as they “utter proud words.” Not a good situation. This feels like a world with real enemies.

Or look at Psalm 59:

They come out at nightfall,

snarling like dogs as they prowl about the city;

they roam here and there in search of food,

and howl if they are not satisfied.

Well, this is one way of imagining enemies. The Psalmist gets to thinking it feels like we are food, and our enemies are circling around us like a pack of hungry dogs. Have you ever felt like that? Maybe it was even one snarling dog.

But notice—and this is always the ultimate pattern of the Psalms—just after the snarling dogs, the Psalmist says:

But I shall sing of your strength,

and acclaim your love when morning comes;

for you have been my strong tower

and a refuge in my day of trouble.

I shall raise a psalm to you, my strength;

for God is my strong tower.

He is my gracious God.

The strongest note of the Psalms is that God will win out in the end. He is our “gracious God.” The promise of grace and goodness will overwhelm the fear of harm. In fact, we are assured, harm will eventually come down on the heads of the perpetrators. Sure, there are enemies out there; in fact, they are all around. But God will make all things right in the end.

Injustice and unfairness are not the final order of God’s world. Goodness is his final word. Goodness and graciousness, comfort and joy—those are God’s final words. We can depend on his faithfulness—that’s what the Psalmist always ends up with, even as enemies, menacing and hurtful, continue to circle around. In the end, we can sing of God’s strength. We can claim his love when the morning comes.