The God of Our Enemies

Sergei Khudiev

Assyrians placing Israelite captives on spikes. Bas-relief from Nineveh. British Museum. Assyrians placing Israelite captives on spikes. Bas-relief from Nineveh. British Museum.

Back in my distant Soviet childhood, when I knew next to nothing about the Bible, I knew a little about the story of Jonah—a man who spent three days in the belly of a whale. In some children’s book I read that a whale feeds on plankton, its mouth is made in such a way that it is practically impossible for a man to find his way into it, and the priests are only making fools of the working class.

In the original there is no whale, only a very large fish, but that is not the point. This book is not at all about ichthyology. This is a book about God and people.

Jonah is an ancient Israelite prophet to whom God has given an extremely unpleasant mission. He is supposed to go to Nineveh in order to preach repentance to the inhabitants of this enormous city: “Only forty more days, and Nineveh will be destroyed!” (cf. Jonah 3:4). God wants to give the Ninevites one last chance.

But Jonah does not want this at all. What if they suddenly repent, are saved, and escape God’s punishment for their sins? No, the prophet is not a mean man. He is simply a man, similar to us.

Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire. The Ninevites were not just pagans; they were mortal, sworn enemies of the people of God. Archeology has preserved Assyrian bas-reliefs depicting acts of the Assyrian army with stomach-turning boastfulness: captives on spikes, walls hung with flayed human skins, women and children driven into slavery under their conquerors’ whips. The Assyrians ruled by inspiring terror, and terror was something they truly knew how to inspire.

Therefore, the prophet does not at all want them to repent. God’s wrath has already been way too slow in coming. Nineveh will be destroyed? Good! The sooner the better! Finally! Let them reap what they have sown, let the same horror reign in their streets as what they brought to other cities! No one will have any regrets over this—least of all Jonah!

So, when God sent Jonah to give the Ninevites their last chance, the prophet did not even want to go. Only after a series of adventures is he finally forced to go to the hated Ninevites and preach God’s message. A miracle occurs: The cruel-hearted pagans repent. Their kings command that Men and cattle were clothed with sackcloths, and cried earnestly to God; and they turned every one from their evil way, and from the iniquity that was in their hands, saying, Who knows if God will repent, and turn from his fierce anger, and so we shall not perish? (Jonah 3:8-9).

God accepted their repentance: And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil ways; and God repented of the evil which he had said he would do to them; and he did it not (Jonah 3:10)

The prophet was beside himself with disappointment. The evildoers were saved from the punishment they long deserved! But God says to him:

And shall not I spare Nineveh, the great city, in which dwell more than twelve myriads of human beings, who do not know their right hand or their left hand; and also much cattle? (Jonah 4:11).

So it turns out that God is the Creator and Preserver of even these vicious pagans, the terrible enemies of His people. He loves them, pities them, and desires their salvation. He is not only the God of Israel—He is God of the entire world. Jonah had great difficulty accepting this message, and people today also have trouble with this. People constantly talk about God as if He were “the God of our folk”, a tribal God.

There is a concept in religious studies called genetheism. This is the worship of one god—the God of the tribe. This god, who grants our tribe military victory over other tribes, brings the increase of our cattle, the rain over our fields. He is a strong ally who we can call upon to provide for our own interests. Other tribes may have other gods, and they are no less real; but this particular god is ours. Naturally, our god has no concern for the members of other tribes.

Monotheism is an entirely different view of the world. There is only one true God, Who has made heaven and earth, the Master and Guardian of absolutely everything visible and invisible. He is God, Who supports the existence of and nourishes our tribe—but not only ours. He is God, who preserves all people—both our tribal allies, and our enemies, and even those tribes we know nothing about.

The God of the Bible is not the God of one group of people—of our tribe, our party, our community. He is the God of all nations and all peoples, including (and this is something we just have to accept!) those enemy tribes and parties. Yes, many do not know Him and do not worship Him, but they are still His creations, about whom He cares, and whose eternal salvation is His constant yearning. They may be terrible, they may be repulsive, we may even have very serious and just grievances against them. But they are His precious creation, for whom He seeks salvation and life.

The Old Testament is filled with displeasure on the part of the people of God: When? When will God finally sock it to those cursed pagans? We have no moral grounds for looking down upon the people of that era—the wish that God would become a weapon of our wrath and strike our enemies has not gone anywhere. And it is easy to become enemies, who in the eyes of His people deserve wrath—configurations of conflicts and alliances change unpredictably, and it is impossible to predict whose righteous struggle people will sympathize with, and who the world will be angry with tomorrow.

Therefore Christ says, love your enemies. Because God loves them. No, it is not easy to look at people we hate (and have a justifiable reason for this hatred) through the eyes of God, Who created them and preserves them. This is even frightening—for we are used to the world we are living in, while we are called to live in an entirely different one. It is a break with how people always act, with what they consider right and even sacred. Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust (Mt. 5:43-45).

But believing in God the Creator of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible, means precisely this. Our enemies are His beloved creations.

Sergei Khudiev

14 сентября 2014 г.

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Georgina 7 ноября 2015, 20:00
"Yes, many do not know Him and do not worship Him, but they are still His creations, about whom He cares, and whose eternal salvation is His constant yearning." Sergei is saying that there can only be one God of all of these peoples because there is only one God. And that God created them and loves them, so He is their God, even though they don't know it and don't acknowledge it and don't worship Him. And yes, anyone who knows the Gospel knows that we must love them. Loving them doesn't mean validating their beliefs or practices or letting them do whatever they want to society, or not fighting against terrible things they may promote. It simply means loving them through it. If that seems difficult, look to the cross, see what Christ did. See Jesus hanging there, and compare any difficulty you have with His.
George Orthodox24 сентября 2014, 10:00
Sergei wants us to believe that the muslims have the same God as us, and this is simply not true. What is true is that there is one God, Lord and Savior over all mankind and creation, but NOT all mankind worship Him as God and many people have created their own gods, the gods of their imagination. This would be a more accurate, biblical and patristic teaching. We must be careful to not fall into the trap of our enemy that will use our own good intentions and faith against us. In America millions of people support gay marriage because of a thwarted definition of love, and many support abortion because of the same thwarted defiled definition. Many converts to our Holy Faith come to our faith thinking they know better and can help us understand our own history and the “scars” it has left, but in reality the converts are taught to remain silent and learn before they try and correct things they know very little about. If you want to know what the Muslims did to our Orthodox people read the writings of St. John of Damascus, St Gregory Palamas (who was kidnapped and held ransom by them) and a book entitled “ Witnesses for Christ: Orthodox Christians Neomartyrs of the Ottoman period”
george.martyr@mail.com24 сентября 2014, 10:00
He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad. “Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come. –Matthew 12:30-32 Does our Lord define Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit the way you do? Do the Holy Fathers define blasphemy against the Holy Spirit the way you do? According to St. Basil the Great this verse is about people who attribute the works of God to the energy of evil. The Muslims are the ones that have committed this sin since they are the ones that attribute Christianity and our miracles to evil, which is exactly what the Jewish leaders did with Jesus Himself (Matthew 12:24), then they are the ones who have blasphemed against the Holy Spirit, and you read what our Lord says about such a sin? In His infinite mercy many Muslims who are ignorant of their own teachings are coming to faith in Christ, but this is in spite of their belief system and not because of it.
george.martyr@mail.com24 сентября 2014, 10:00
Do you now see the difference? Our Lord Jesus Christ taught that the Apostles should go into the towns and villages and proclaim the good news of salvations, but what did he say they should do if they do not accept them? He says that they should stump the dust from their feet and leave. He tells his apostles not to cast their pearls before the swine. What does our Lord mean by swine? Who are the swine? If he tells us not to cast pearls before swine should we not obey Him and judge the disposition of the one listening? Our holy Father amongst the saints, St. Paul tells us that we should admonish heretics once or twice and after the second admonition to leave them (Titus 3:10), is St. Paul unloving? Was Christ unloving when he commanded us to avoid casting pearls before swine? Was he saying that swine is incapable of repentance? Did Christ blaspheme Himself? Of course not! Your definition of blasphemy against God- is it in line with the teaching of Christ and our Holy Faith? Read the words of our God and savior Jesus Christ and see for yourself
george.martyr@mail.com24 сентября 2014, 10:00
This is underscored by the fact that the one prophet who was sent by God and did not go wholeheartedly, but went wanting to see their destruction was able to bring about repentance in their heart. Their repentance was so deep that they fasted for three days and nights mourning over their sins. As I stated they were THE FIRST gentile nation to believe in God and were amongst the first to accept Christ as the Messiah in the first century ( we refer to them as the Assyrian/Syriac people today). The group that you and Sergei appear to be defending have a very different disposition, one of direct antagonism towards the Christian faith, which comes from their false prophet and from their Koran that they consider holy.
george.martyr@mail.com24 сентября 2014, 10:00
James, I suggest that you read my comments again in context and then you will clearly see what I wrote. It appears that maybe you are attempting to create a straw-man that you can attack since I never stated that muslims are incapable of repentance nor did I state that they are beyond God’s reach, but what I did say is that the disposition of the Muslim member of IS who kill children, rape and enslave women, behead people merely because they are Christians are not in any way shape or form comparable to the Ninevite’s who were living ignorantly and did not intentionally make God’s people their enemies.
James Heywood20 сентября 2014, 04:00
We know that Islam is an inherently violent religion, and that the Islamic State terrorist group carry it to horrendous extremes. But is George Orthodox saying that Muslims are incapable of repentance? If so, that is very dangerous, because it would say that they lack a fundamental human attribute (which would be racism, or ethnophiletism, perhaps) and that they are beyond the reach of the Lord (which would be blasphemy). During 500 years of Ottoman rule the Orthodox were left to practice their faith and run their affairs, as long as they did not disturb or threaten the Ottoman power. They learned to keep their heads down. Instead of preaching the Gospel to the Turks, they told themselves that it was too dangerous and that, in any case, Muslims were beyond conversion. Those times have left many scars on the souls of Orthodox Christians, But, as Sergei Khudiev points out, the essence of our faith is love, even of those that hate us. The world can think only of air strikes to deal with IS – in other words to deal in the same currency as they. Perhaps what we really need is people who will do what Jonah did.
George Orthodox16 сентября 2014, 14:00
I am surprised that this article which has not been thought out very well was placed on an ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN website. I expect such things from the protestant who do not have the Holy Fathers, and are quick to create teaching based upon a narrow interpretation of scripture, but not from an Orthodox Christian writer. This sort of writing is what led to a redefinition of Christian love, by the modernists and helped pacify the Christians against revolting against the Bolsheviks after 1918. The Church of Christ should be much more careful. We have thousands of martyrs who did not stand before their persecutors and say “we all have the same God, you know”, but they said things like “your god, is a false god that you worship. Turn to the true God our Lord Jesus Christ”. Read the lives of the Greek martyrs under the Turks as well as the life of St. George and St. Catherine etc.……
George Orthodox16 сентября 2014, 14:00
The Muslims on the other hand have a book they consider holy that commands them to kill the Christians and all unbelievers to their religion (Quran 2:191-193;2:244;2:216 etc…) and they have not repented even when miracles take place in their communities through Orthodox priests. The Ninevites had no such teaching against the Jews, but were simply a people surviving through war as they were taught and when they learned of their mistake they repented. Look at our Holy Prince Vladimir who did repent when he was confronted with the true and living God and you will see the difference between the disposition of his holy soul and that of "Islamic State", who do not repent and kill the Christians for NOT rejecting Jesus as the messiah! This is certainly the work of the antichrist according to St. John (1 John 2:22), so the author should be very careful when he writes such a thing.
George Orthodox16 сентября 2014, 14:00
This essay is very incomplete and leads the reader to many false understanding about the character of God. The author seems to be alluding that the evil atrocities committed by the muslims in the Middle East and throughout the world against the Christians is somehow okay since Christ is also their God, but this is simply false. God created all of humanity and gave man freewill, and the bible speaks of God hating mans sin. The bible speaks of the martyrs calling out from under the alter of God "how long oh Lord, how long?" waiting from Gods righteous judgment against those that had slain them for their faith in Him (Revelation 6:9-11) Evil is evil and many people commit it, but the difference between the Muslims this article seems to be defending and the Ninevites is that the Ninevites repented through the preaching of a prophet who ran away from God's calling and did not want to even go. When he did finally go all he said was "repent" and even though to travel through Nineveh was a three day journey he only went a day and half, but yet they repented and became one of the first gentile believers in God, and also one of the first people to accept Jesus as the messiah while the Jews rejected Him! ( See “History of the Church” by Bishop Eusebius)
George Orthodox16 сентября 2014, 14:00
He may be their creator, but they may also hate Him and reject Him as God (Matthew 7:21-23).Being their God because He created them does not make them His children since we know that becoming an heir of God is only through adoption via belief in God followed by Baptism into God and His holy Church (Galatians 3:26-29, Romans 8:15-17), and we also know that our Lord Jesus Christ called the Jewish Pharisees children of the devil because of their rejection of Him (John 8:42-47).
Храм Новомученников Церкви Русской. Внести лепту