Friday, March 2, 2012

God vs. Your Enemies

Last year, I read the book Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand. I can’t recommend this book strongly enough; it is one of the most amazing stories I’ve ever read. And in spite of the fact that I’m about to tell you some key details of the story, I still think you should go buy the book…I won’t even tell you half of the incredible things you’ll read. Unbroken is about Louis Zamperini, who ran for the US in the Berlin Olympics in 1936, then became a bombardier in the Pacific when WW II began. His plane was shot down, and he and his pilot spent 47 days in a rubber raft in the Pacific, barely staying alive on rainwater and small fish they were able to catch. They survived starvation and dehydration, constant shark attacks and the attempts of one Japanese plane to strafe them. They landed on a Japanese-held island and were taken prisoner. Louis weighed 65 pounds at this point. For the rest of the war, Louis was a prisoner under some of the most cruel and dehumanizing conditions imaginable. The commandant of the prison camp was a sadistic man named Matsuhiro Watanabe, whose nickname was “The Bird.” Perhaps because of Louis’ athletic success, or because of his defiant attitude, the Bird hated Louis more than all the other prisoners. He would single Louis out for special acts of torture. Just a couple of examples: One day the Bird took off his belt, swung it over his head and hit Louis in the temple with the buckle, knocking him unconscious. When Louis came to, the Bird was kneeling over him, apologizing and wiping the blood from Louis’ forehead. Louis struggled to his feet, thinking the Bird was feeling true remorse at last. Just then, the Bird hit him again in the same spot. Another time, the Bird made Louis stand before the entire camp and ordered every prisoner to punch him in the face. They were told that if they didn’t hit him hard enough, they would be beaten. So Louis told his fellow prisoners to go ahead, then stood as over a hundred men hit him.

When the war ended, Louis was liberated. He went home to a hero’s welcome, and married a beautiful young woman. But in reality, he never really escaped the Bird. Every night, he would have dreams about his enemy. Often, he would dream of killing him. In one dream, he was on top of the Bird, choking him to death. Louis woke up to find himself on top of his wife, with his hands around her throat. In an attempt to forget the Bird, Louis started drinking. His alcoholism drove away his wife, who Louis truly loved. She filed for divorce, but he was still not willing to change. Meanwhile, the Bird was a fugitive. He was named as one of Japan’s forty most wanted war criminals, but was never caught. This man had destroyed Louis’ life, and now it seemed there would be no justice.

Having enemies is no fun. Think back to when you were a child; all of us had a bully, or two or more, who tormented us for a while. Many of us even today live in perpetual dread of our boss, our ex-spouse, or some other person who seems to be an emissary straight from Hell, bent on making our lives miserable. Like Louis, we may dream of getting even, hope for something awful to happen to them, or at least enjoy telling other people how awful our enemies are. But God’s word is clear: Jesus in Matthew 5:43-44 said, You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. In other words, one thing that marks us as people of God is that we don’t hate our enemies: We love them to the same degree that they despise us. How are we supposed to respond to our enemies this way? Because we know God is in control. We know that He will bring us the justice that we cannot get for ourselves. This Sunday, we'll look at Numbers 22-24. This story, perhaps the funniest story in the whole Bible, contains a very serious message: Even when the enemy of God’s people is a formidable foe, God knows exactly how to handle him. We'll see what God does with our enemies, and why we can trust Him...and not give in to hate. We'll also see what happened to Louis. I hope you'll be there.

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