I wish putting on affection for your enemies was as simple as putting on a new pair of socks fresh out of the dryer—clean, easy, warm. Love for those we dislike, those we fear, is more than niceties and well wishes.
God’s invitation to Jonah is beyond words. Jonah must go to the city gates, and ask if he can come in. Love is full-bodied with all of our senses. Love must come to town.
We might be proud of our well-informed opinions about those who feel like enemies. It’s quite trendy, in some circles, to heap scorn on uninformed conservatives and in other spheres to tear apart elitist progressives. Jesus followers must transcend these social ghettos of self-righteousness.
If we believe that all of us, even our enemies, are created in the image of God, then we must behold it. Only in the real journey, through the void, can enemy-love become true and tangible. This is what makes the church unique in a world of conflict.
Enemy-love calls us into an utterly peculiar approach—to go ourselves, bearing gifts of peace, of blessing, moving from the center of our convictions to the edge of our comfort zones. But be warned, this full-bodied kind of love will collide with our current ideas on how we think we know people.
Over the last couple of decades, something slightly ominous arrived. The phenomenon started back in the ’90s with chat rooms and heated up with the slow burn of personal blogs in the 2000s, taking its time to come to full, heaving, undulating boil to what we have now: Expert Delusion.
Expert Delusion is the misguided belief that you can be an expert because you have access to information. I’m an expert on gardening because I’ve read multiple blog articles; I’m an expert on mental health because I’ve listened to multiple podcasts; I’m an expert on the incarceration system because I’ve read multiple Twitter threads.
At times I’m lured into the lie that I can be an expert on something because I’ve acquired information on a specific matter—low-carb eating, city planning, constitutional law, etc. Peter Senge unpacks our fixation on becoming experts: “We secure strength in our social worlds when we are convinced we have more accumulated information in our head than anyone else.”
The direct impact of this information-binging is that it erodes our ability to enter into the experience of another. It tricks our egos into believing that we already know because we are informed—it gives us bloated brains (Matt. 23:23). We love information like Kim Jong-un loves to line up his tanks and soldiers in the streets—it provides our egos a sense of conquest and control.
The Information Gold Rush we live in collides with our current cultural beliefs in how we “know” things. René Descartes gave us the slogan “I think therefore I am.” Descartes, a mathematician, attempted to make all knowledge as certain as he perceived math equations. Descartes defined the self as “Thinker.” In the act of “knowing” we tend to picture information, facts, statements, and proofs. Knowledge in our time is factoids.
The church gained its convictions about how to hold on to truth from Descartes.
KNOWLEDGE AS CONSUMPTION
In my early twenties I was fanatical about absolute truth. Which in those days meant facts about reality, not presence with others. Truth had little to do with the relational journey and everything do with information through reading. Blame it on Descartes, we think we can know things about people without dwelling with people.
We think we can know things about people without dwelling with people. Being right, without loving well, is not right.
If we think knowledge is information, then obviously it’s readily available in gargantuan amounts, delivered instantly via the internet, cable news, and your favorite podcast. You can merely let Fox News, CNN, or NPR tell you about large swaths of people:
Black people are ______________.
Evangelicals are ______________.
Immigrants are _______________.
Republicans are _______________.
Democrats are ________________.
We are being shaped to believe emotionally, psychologically, and relationally that knowledge is the passive consumption of information. We don’t know each other, even though we are convinced we do—no wonder we have so many perceived enemies.
The way we conceive of truth is essentially impersonal. We fill in the blanks and call them facts about each other.
Recently I was enjoying a meal with some friends when the conversation devolved into talking about another person in a way unflattering to their reputation. In a moment of reckless boldness, I asked, “How do we know these things? Have we spent time with them? Have we asked them?” (Hint: that’s how you become a party-pooper.)
The conversation screeched to a halt, and we all hemmed and hawed at realizing our observations were from a place of detachment and hearsay.
Now, this type of opinion-creation is an American pastime, but this approach to “knowing” someone is violent to the critical quality that makes us human.
Excerpted from Love Over Fear: Facing Monsters, Befriending Enemies, and Healing Our Polarized World by Dan White, Jr. (©2019). Published by Moody Publishers. Used by permission.
Dan White, Jr. works as a consultant and missional coach with the V3 Movement. He also co-founded the Praxis Gathering. Praxis is an annual gathering of 300+ on-the-ground Missional practitioners who are living innovative and incarnational ways of being the church. Dan is the author of Love Over Fear: Facing Monsters, Befriending Enemies, and Healing Our Polarized World (Moody Pub 2019), Subterranean: Why the Future of the Church is Rootedness (Cascade Books 2015), voted Leadership Journal’s Top Ten Ministry Books of the Year for 2015, and co-author of The Church as Movement: Starting and Sustaining Missional-Incarnational Churches (IVP 2016) winner of InterVarsity Press Book of the Year 2017.