Genesis 3:15 ‘‘And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”
Umberto Eco (1932 – 2016), an Italian philosopher and novelist who died recently of pancreatic cancer published a book under a title, ‘‘Inventing your enemy.’’ In one of the chapters, he shared about the conversation he had with a Pakistani taxi driver on the street of New York. The driver asked him from where he came. Eco replied, “Italy.” The driver was astonished why Italians are few and why they do not speak English. He continued and asked Eco who their enemies are – those who kill them and whom they kill, and against whom they have fought through the centuries over land claims, ethnic rivalry and border incursions. He told him that they are not at war with any one. The taxi driver was surprised by Eco’s reply and asked, “How a country has no enemy?” Eco did mention in his writing how Mussolini plunged Italians into war with Abyssinia in order to revenge the historical defeat in the battle of Adwa and Dogali. He also admitted that Italians are continually at war with each other, for example, Pisa against Lucca, North against the South, and Mafias against state. He highlighted from his secular point of view how race, gender, politics and religious views cause tension in classical and modern history.
Who are our enemies and how are they identified? The answer to this question depends on where we come from and on our worldviews. Generally, enmity has been attached with the planet since the time mankind detached from the creator. There is victimisation and antagonistic interaction in the fallen creation including among animals and tiny creatures through parasitism, predation and antibiosis among different species, especially if one benefits at the expense of another. It will also continue until the removal of evil and the restoration of creation. The bible speaks of the time when the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, Leopard shall lie down with the kid, the cow and the bear together (Isa. 11:6-8).
To begin with, God has never intended to create antipathy between Jews and Gentiles which we often read in the Bible. However, there was ongoing struggle between Israel and Gentiles. Israel considered themselves as a chosen race and ‘others’ as Gentiles and pagans. Those who were adversaries to His people were taken as enemies of God; it is still the case between Israel (religious Jews) and the Palestine. God’s original plan in setting apart Israel was to use them as a model to others (Leviticus 20:24-26). God spoke through the mouth of His prophet to Israel, ‘‘I will also make you a light for the Gentiles that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.’’ (Isa. 49:6). However, the nation went so far in exclusion, negligence and refused to share the knowledge of God. As a result, Israel was isolated completely from the rest of the world and positioned in contradiction to others.
On the other side, Jews were treated as ‘enemies’ while scattered among ‘Gentiles;’ Anti-Semitism has existed throughout many generations. Eco cited from Tacitus, “All things that are sacred for us are profane for them, and what is impure for us is lawful for them.” The fact that they are isolated in many aspects of their life brought severe consequences, and it has permanently been a threat to their collective identity. Eco called them ‘strange’ because they abstain from eating pork, do not use yeast in bread, rest on the seventh day, and marry only among themselves.
The other enmity that darkened human history arose from religious extremism and Apologeticism. According to the extremists and the fundamental Islam ideologists, ‘‘anyone who is not a Muslim is an infidel; s/he is ‘‘an enemy of Allah and Mohammed and deserves to be killed.’’ Many years ago, it has been the case among the so called ‘‘Christians’’ here in Europe; if one deviates from the Orthodox and the largely accepted view of the Catholics, it might cost him/her life. In those days, the defendants of ‘faith’ were using swords rather than the word and the scriptures. It wasn’t only the Roman Catholic or the Orthodox Churches, the early Evangelical Protestants were doing the same thing as their mother, Rome. One of the main founders of the Evangelical Protestant churches, John Calvin was responsible for the death of Michael Servetus for his anti-Trinitarian view. Calvin wrote to his friend Farel on 13 Feb. 1546, ‘‘If he [Servetus] comes [to Geneva], I shall never let him go out alive if my authority has weight.’’ historians agree that Geneva was ‘‘The Rome of Protestantism’’ and John Calvin was the ‘‘Protestant ‘Pope’ of Geneva.’’ Some writers indicated that he “had a prolonged, murderous hate in his heart and was willing to violate scripture to put another to death in most cruel way.”1
Another area of tension was born in the pre-modern world out of colonisation and persisted because of migration. Anti-immigrant sentiment, xenophobic attitude and resentment are on the rise between non movers/natives and movers/immigrants, as mass migration from South to North has significantly increased. Some of the natives treat migrants as ‘new form of enemy.’ The white supremacists consider immigrants as strangers; especially, a black person is treated as ‘stranger wherever he goes.’ Eco illustrated this by describing a person with dark skin – ‘the colour of an Ethiopian’
– as a person “whom you wouldn’t want to bump into in the middle of the night.” Blackophobic Europeans view ‘negro’ as ‘ugly’, and ‘the enemy must be ugly.’ The colonisers described Africans as, ‘strangers to every sentiment of compassion, and are an awful example of the corruption of man when left to himself.’ The other way around, Africans used to view the colonisers as rivals; ‘‘the colonist never ceases to be the enemy, the antagonist, in plain words public enemy number 1.’’
Hostility is widely reflected among various groups of people and nations in contemporary politics as well. The increasing antagonism and bitterness among politicians and party groups is another example for wrongly positioned enmity; it is sometimes seen even within the border of the most civilised nations in the west. They throw a lot of awful words at each other just for the sake of winning the favour of their citizens. The hostility seen among African politicians is beyond one can imagine. The media coverage of the continent centres on war, intra-conflict among various ethnic tribes and the ongoing inter-conflict along national territories. The struggle and all the killings in some east African nations, particularly the recent clash in Ethiopia between the state and the people as well as the rising tension among various Ethiopian communities residing abroad, are all part of the ungodly battle between good and evil. What is now happening in Somalia, Syria and Iraq exemplifies intense and life threatening antagonism.
The suffering of Christ itself was not only a violation of justice in humanity but also a fulfilment of the promised ultimate enmity between Him and the seed of the serpent. A follower of God cannot justify hurting other fellow humans either psychologically or physically. However, as long as evil exists, oppression, violence, conflict and bloodshed are inevitable. What is happening in the world is the result of being under the control of the Evil one who shifted the place of enmity in the minds of people.
Since the time when the devil has placed enmity between one another, humanity has been filled with hatred, and bloodshed is a day to day encounter. People have been treated badly, and conflict and war never ceased. As a result, the suffering of creation has perpetuated and is even getting worse, and this is not just spiritual naivety and ignorance which sometimes occur among Christians.
The use of alcohol, cannabis and other drugs often stirs and reinforces violence. Such stories get media coverage every single day; even today’s paper published a story of a man who killed his own relatives. He believed, ‘‘he was under the control of Satan,… the drug made his violent fantasies a lot worse… later he told a doctor he only intended to rob his aunt of money but Satan went in there for violence. He added, ‘He (Satan) was there saying I was going to be the happiest man alive.’ (Satan’ told cannabis user to slaughter aunt and nan)’’ (Binns, 22 Nov, 2016). Though the criminal do not know how the spiritual realm works, he was aware that he was under the influence of drug and was controlled by the Devil when he was committing the murder.
Eco, the Italian philosopher and novelist, didn’t tell us neither the source of the problem – where exactly enmity entered into human history – nor the way out and how it will vacate humanity. This is the nucleus of the matter. Eco just focused on some historical and philosophical literatures on enmity and how it shaped society and history. But the Bible put it very clearly that hatred began right from the beginning in Genesis after Adam and his descendants fall from the grace of God and when his children began to reflect what was in the lives of their parents. Cain hated his own brother Abel and he stoned him to death. Since then, hostility has persisted in human relationships.
The level and the kind of hatred might differ, but there is one common thing that entire human beings share. It doesn’t matter whether we are educated, civilised or not; we are all ignorant of our real enemy. ‘One’ is ignorant of the ‘other.’ We are not aware of the fact that Jesus died to kill. He was hated by His own creation and put to death in order to slaughter enmity. Reconciliation is one of the crucial parts of the cross. Making peace begins primarily with God and extends to one another. The Bible speaks of how we hated one another, and our evil behaviours that made us enemies of God. When the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, He reconciled us with himself through the sacrifice of His physical body (Titus 3:3-5, Col. 1:21-22). The Bible use Israel and Gentiles as an example of enmity, but by the sacrifice of the lamb their enmity has come to an end; Paul declared, ‘‘he put to death their hostility’’ (Eph. 2:16).
Following the footstep of our master, we are entitled to engage in the enmity that God has put in place and to crush the head of the serpent. It is the Devil who is our adversary, and who works day and night for our destruction, he is the enemy and not our fellow humans. This is why Paul said ‘‘for though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds’’ (2 Cor. 10:3-4). The spiritual war is completely different from what we are now seeing in the world. We might be in a situation where people hate us and intended on hurting us. In fact, it is not them but the spirit empowering their fallen nature and inflicting animosity. When we are attacked, our temper rises; we respond aggressively and usually tend to revenge. Many generations have gone through killings and
destruction, never knowing waging war against flesh and blood does not bring any profit but ruins and damage. This was the reason why Paul emphasised to Corinthians that ‘‘we do not war after the flesh’’ (2 Cor. 10:3). When a person became provocative and behaves badly, let us see beyond the situation and ask the question, ‘why he acted the way he did?’ Don’t take it personal, it is the sinful nature stimulated by evil spirit disrupting peace and love. When we react in the same way the provocateur acted, the devil will get a chance to invent his version of enmity. But if we really want to act or react appropriately and in a Christianly manner we will put the devil to shame. Here is God’s advice:
‘‘Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good’’ (Romans 12:17-21).
By using the term ‘your enemy’ here, Paul does not encourage us to classify any individual as enemy; rather he is referring to a person who positions himself or herself against us. When the proud is humiliated by the mighty Lord and need your assistance, give him your hands. ‘If he is hungry, feed him.’ Overcome evil with good. However, ‘revenge’ should never cross your mind, because avenging is for the Lord. But when it comes to fighting the evil spirit who is the driving force behind the individual, then our reaction will be completely different. As the Bible says, ‘‘Be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might, put on the whole armour of God’’ and fight (Eph. 6:10ff). Because the devil is our adversary, he is always after us. Peter has also advised us to ‘‘stay alert!’’ and ‘‘watch out’’ for the devil is our ‘‘great enemy’’ (1 Pet. 5:8). We did not invent this enemy; rather he had existed as an adversary before we were even created. In fact, he was the cause for the fall of humanity. Since there is no peace and reconciliation with him, the simplest prescription you are given is to ‘resist the Devil and he will flee from you’’ (James 4:7).
Having enemy and knowing our enemy is vital at least for a couple of reasons. First, if there are no enemies, Christians may not be able to agree on who they are. For instance, when an outsider enemy invades a country’s territory, an incredible unity will be created among the citizens. As a result, people in the group will be conscious of who they are. Similarly, one of the many things that remind us of our identity is our adversary. The devil or the world cannot turn their face against you unless there is something different about you. Jesus said to his disciples, ‘‘if you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you’’ (John 15:19). Christians are members of God’s family, but strangers to this world. And the world hates strangers and loves its own. Again it is really important to know that ‘‘you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household’’ (Eph. 2:19). We know that we belong to the Kingdom of God because we are treated in the world as strangers, and we are engaged in a unique war with the Devil.
Second, an enemy is important because it helps us to demonstrate our own value. Jesus said, ‘‘the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full’’ (John 10:10). A thief doesn’t often attempt to robe the poor person or someone considered worthless but he comes to rob a person with a big capital and who imagined having valuable material possessions that cares much about his or her own safety. In contrast, the worth of life is much lower among the poor and the people who struggle to meet their basic needs; thus, the thief is not after them. In fact, where there are substantial assets, there are a significant number of raiders. Nevertheless, a place where there are no valuable items cannot be an object of burglars and intruders.
As Christians ‘‘we have this treasure in jars of clay’’ (2 Cor. 4:7). The enemy is well aware of its value even when we fail to realize it. There is a big lesson we can take from the fact that we are ‘wanted’. The enemy is chasing us for a reason; ‘‘wherever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together’’ (Math. 24:28). Costly treasure is invested in you and me through the death of the Lord Jesus Christ which cannot be compared to any other earthly possession. Peter reminded God’s elect, ‘‘you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect’’ (1 Pet. 1:1-2,18- 19). If you are one of those who are chosen for such glorious position, remember that the enemy will never let you go in peace. Who can be the object of the adversary? Who is able retaliate the spiritual attack accurately? Who can be at odd with the world? Who must react in a Christian manner? It is you! Don’t consider as if you are the only person who goes through it. Men of God like Paul and the rest of the Apostles experienced the worst. They were ‘‘hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed’’ (2 Cor. 4:8-9). So don’t fight with flesh and blood, for it is a corrupted enmity which the Devil misplaced. However, focus on the enmity God put in place between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, and allow it to continue working and being fulfilled in your life. In fact, it is hereditary; we cannot be God’s people and live in peace with Devil.
Contributor: Pastor Fitsum Kebede recently moved from London to Los Angeles for his MA study in theology at Claremont School in California. He was formerly an Instructor at the Bible College in Addis Ababa.
Collector: Brother Ahadu Lakew from ACI Greater Los Angeles Area