patty kirk

patty kirk lying down, getting up, sitting at home, walking down the road doing deuteronomy 6:7

Sunday, March 17, 2013


When I read the Bible all the way through for the first time, I found the Psalms irrelevant to my life and, frankly, boring. Sometimes lyrical, it’s true—insofar as verses in translation can be lyrical. And reputedly prophetic of Jesus (though that remained a doubt area for me).

But all this talk of enemies! A hundred or so references to them in the 150 Psalms. The psalmist is surrounded by them, oppressed by them, persecuted and gloated over and mocked by them, ignored by them. He begs God to scatter them, destroy them, crush their heads, make them lick the dust.

Who in the world prays such prayers? Who in the world, for that matter, has so many enemies? The only enemies I could remember having had in my life thus far were the girls in my seventh grade home ec class who cut up the culottes I had just about finished sewing, and I had ended up being best friends with their ringleader a year later. Don’t people grow out of having enemies, once they grow up? Not a single adult I knew was plagued by enemies—certainly not an enemy like old crazy Saul was to David. Soldiers maybe were, but I didn’t really know anyone in the military. I decided that the days of David and Saul were past, at least for ordinary non-militants like me.

Many years after that first Bible read-through, though, I ended up seriously on the wrong side of most of my colleagues over a matter of an invited speaker. I won’t bore you (and possibly het myself up) with the details. Suffice it to say that my concept of being surrounded by enemies changed that semester, as did my understanding of the word enemy.

An enemy, I discovered, was not some crazy aggressor who inexplicably had it in for me, some enemy combatant I could depersonalize with some curse-name, but a former friend or well-wisher that I was on the outs with. Someone, in other words, that I was in conflict with. And God knows I’m surrounded by such everyday: colleagues, bosses, friends or siblings who’re upset with me or with whom I'm upset, my church pastor maybe, my daughters, my husband. Name a person in some way related to me, and that person has probably been my enemy at one time or another.

So I arrive at the culmination of Jesus’ little treatise on anger: Not only is calling someone an idiot a serious sin, not only should you offer your other cheek to someone who slaps you and give those who sue you even more than they ask for, but, in general, you should “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44 NIV).

Having come to a more relevant understanding of the word enemy than what I started out with, I believe what Jesus is saying we should do here is both a smaller and a more difficult enterprise than it might at first seem. To be perfect, to be God-like—which, in the next breath (Matthew 5:48), Jesus calls us all to be—we need to operate out of love by seeking reconciliation always. Not with some impersonal enemy that we probably won’t ever have but with the enemies who surround us all: the adversaries we daily make of those around us.

Even when we’re legitimately upset. Even when we feel wronged. Even when—especially when—we know we’re in the right.

(I’ve written a lot more on this topic, in case anyone’s interested, in my new book, The Easy Burden of Pleasing God.)


  1. Your comment on Psalms reflects my own experience somewhat. I used to have to grit my teeth and grunt my way through them. Now, however, I really enjoy them. I find that so many of them could be read as though they were written by Jesus himself. I find tears running down my cheeks when I read them that way. Reading them that way makes the calls for the destruction of the wicked and enemies seem especially incongruous to me. I've thought about that quite a bit. Could Jesus call for the destruction of his enemies? Would he pray those kinds of things? I guess knowing the future and the state of someone's heart would be a benefit since Jesus could consider someone and know whether they are terminally ill spiritually. Plus, an enemy of Jesus is an enemy of God.

    I've decided that to think he wouldn’t or couldn’t pray those kinds of things is to suppose that he is incapable of bringing destruction onto his enemies - and I know that is untrue from other scripture. There is some kind of a balance that I don’t grasp yet. I think Jesus can tell if we are beyond hope. I think he can tell if we will spend our remaining life hampering and destroying others. I think he really doesn’t like that - really doesn't like it.

  2. I struggle with the whole business of Jesus’ praying at all, him being God and man and all. The only way I can get my mind around it is via the word “emptied” in that hymn Paul quotes in Philippians:
    “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
    who, though he was in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be exploited,
    but emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    being born in human likeness.” (Philippians 2:5-7)
    Reading it now, I see Paul telling us to be like Jesus in that, precisely in emptying ourselves. Wow.

  3. I believe that Jesus was God and man. This is easy to say and harder to reconcile. I think that God knows we cannot completely get our arms around him and when he came to us, he came down as a man - with many of man's limitations and without all God's power - so that we could know him better. When he came down as Jesus he thought… If I was no longer a God but a man, then this is the kind of man I would be.