Archive for October 5th, 2006

Walter Camp

October 5, 2006

(No, not that one. Walter, as in Walter Wink, The Powers That Be)

· God wars against unseen world forces (i.e. “principalities and powers”) both through the life of Jesus and his followers.
· Jesus rejected violence as his weapon of war and instructs his followers to do likewise. (Note: There is a difference between “force” and “violence.” Wink defines force as a “legitimate, socially authorized, and morally defensible use of restraint to prevent harm being done to innocent people,” thus permitting police actions and self-defense. Violence, on the other hand, is “a morally illegitimate or excessive use of force.”)
· He also rejects pacifism as commonly understood.
· Instead, he proposes war against “the powers that be” by a third way: nonviolent, creative resistance.


Jesus instructs his students to love their enemies.

Why? For one, God loves our enemies. For another, we are related to our enemies in what Wink terms “our common evil.” He writes, “We would like to identify ourselves as just and good, but we are a mix of just and unjust, good and evil… As we begin to acknowledge our own inner shadow, we become more tolerant of the shadow in others. As we begin to love the enemy within, we develop the compassion we need to love the enemy without.”

There is little talk of loving enemies in today’s Christianity.

Wink turns back to the Sermon on the Mount to examine the words of Jesus. The instruction to love enemies concludes with the dramatic call to “be perfect” like God. He writes, “It may come as immediate relief to learn that Jesus could not have said, ‘Be perfect.’ There was no such word, or even concept, in his native Aramaic or Hebrew. And for good reason. The second commandment had forbidden the making of graven images (Exod. 20:4). Israel consequently never developed the visual arts. The word used by Matthew, teleios, was, however, a Greek aesthetic term. It described the perfect geometric form, or the perfect sculpture. The Greeks seldom used it in ethical discussion, since moral perfection is not within the grasp of human beings, and would even have been regarded, in Greek piety, as a form of hubris. Placed in its context within the rest of the paragraph, Jesus’ saying about behaving like God becomes abundantly clear. We are not to be perfect, but, like God, all-encompassing, loving even those who have least claim or right to our love… We are to be compassionate, as God is compassionate. Or, following Luke’s excellent version of the saying, we are to ‘Be merciful, just as your divine Parent is merciful’ (6:36).”

So the call to love our enemies is a call to follow God’s lead (seasoned with a dash of humility).


Okay, we suck at loving our enemies, but that does not excuse us from the instruction. Part of the good news is that Jesus knows whereby we suck. He asks why we are so intent on removing a splinter from the eye of our enemy while a pine log protrudes from our own eye? Now Jesus continues his thought by allowing that we may very well have a role to play in helping remove that splinter, but before we do so, we have some inner surgery to consider first.

What’s his point? Wink claims that our enemies may be of great value to us. In many cases (not all), our enemy may be useful in revealing to us (if we pause to notice) unacceptable parts of ourselves that need to be redeemed. “How wonderfully humiliating: we not only may have a role in transforming our enemies, but our enemies can play a role in transforming us!” (Wink, 171)

So we love our enemies, not just because God does, and not just because we aren’t so different, but also because we cannot be whole without them. When we learn to look at our enemies this way (objectively and introspectively), we find rage no longer necessary.

And finally, because we have learned to recognize “the powers that be,” we also learn to see our personal rifts as not so personal, and may be able to find ourselves praying with Jesus for forgiveness because, on a deeper level, our enemies (like us) “know not what they do.”


So we learn to love our enemies. Who cares? Am I simply glad that my blood pressure is lowered? Am I simply relieved that I can save a few bucks by taking the hit man off of retainer?

No, I love my enemies because I hope to transform them, freeing them from the grasp of the “powers that be.” I practice creative, nonviolent resistance toward my enemies because maiming and/or killing them makes personal transformation of the enemy borderline impossible. I also shun passivity because it ignores the problem and fuels the monster’s thirst for power, along with failing to expose the monster for what it is and making possible the transformation I pray for in my enemy.

And I love my enemies because I believe in miracles.

As Wink concludes, “If God can forgive, redeem, and transform me, I must also believe that God can work such wonders with anyone. Love of enemies is seeing one’s oppressors through the prism of the reign of God – not only as they now are but also as they can become: transformed by the power of God.”

(Next post is the last chapter, “Prayer and the Powers.”)