Associated Press reporter Terry Anderson was held hostage in Lebanon for nearly seven
years. He was chained to a wall in a filthy, spider-infested cell. He suffered through sickness. He
endured mental torture. He longed for his family. He was ground down by the dull ache of
Through it all, he was given one book-the Bible-and as he devoured it in a search for
words of hope, he came across what appeared to be outrageous words of hopeless naïveté: "You
have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy,'" Jesus told a crowd. "But
I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."
Can you imagine how outlandish that command must have seemed to Anderson after spending
2,455 mind-numbing days in cruel captivity? Love whom? Pray for whom? Show
kindness toward those who brutalized me? Exhibit compassion toward those who callously extended
none to me? Is Jesus a cosmic comedian or merely a starry-eyed idealist?
Finally Anderson was released on December 4, 1991. Journalists clustered around and
peppered him with questions. They wanted to know what his ordeal had been like. They wanted to
know his plans for the future. But then one reporter called out the question that stopped Anderson
in his tracks: "Can you forgive your captors?" What an easy question to pose in the abstract; what
a profound issue to ponder honestly amid the grim reality of harsh injustice.
Anderson paused. Before the words of his response could come out of his mouth, the Lord's
Prayer coursed through his mind: "For-give us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins
Then this victim of undeserved suffering spoke. "Yes," he replied, "as a Christian, I am
required to forgive-no matter how hard it may be."
Often it is hard. So hard, in fact, that Jesus' decree to love and pray for our opponents is
regarded as one of the most breathtaking and gut-wrenching challenges of his entire Sermon on
the Mount, a speech renowned for its outrageous claims. There was no record of any other
spiritual leader ever having articulated such a clear-cut, unambiguous command for people to
express compassion to those who are actively working against their best interests.
Jesus has done it again!
But wait. Hold on a moment. Maybe this command isn't so outlandish after all. Perhaps it's
actually a prescription that benefits both those who forgive and those who are forgiven. Maybe
there are a host of benefits that come with fostering an atmosphere of grace rather than an
environment of maliciousness.
The truth is, God's wisdom works. Choosing to forgive instead of hate can turn out to be one
of our greatest blessings in disguise-if we understand how this extraordinary principle works.
The Rivals around Us
Love my enemies? I don't have any enemies-do you? Nobody has ever shoved a machine gun
under my chin and herded me into a dank cell for seven years. Nobody has ever brutalized me the
way Terry Anderson was abused.
But even in the civilized United States, we do have enemies. To one degree or another we all
have adversaries or opponents toward whom we feel animosity.
He may be the owner of a competing business who's stealing your best customers, and if
you're honest, you'll admit that you hate him for putting your livelihood in jeopardy. She may be
a colleague who's fighting against you-all too successfully-for bonuses and advancement.
He may be the midlevel executive who's firmly entrenched above you in the corporate structure,
and you resent him because he's blocking your way to the top.
If you're management, your adversary may be the union, or vice versa. Your enemy might be
the people who hold opposing views on abortion or homosexuality, and you've gone beyond
disagreeing with their opinions to despising them as people. It might be a teacher who refuses to
cut you any slack. Or the girlfriend who broke your heart. Or the father who stunted your self-esteem.
Or a former friend who broke your confidence and spilled your secrets to the world. Or the
ex-spouse who trashed your marriage. Or the recalcitrant employee who just won't get on board
with your policies. Or the classmate whose popularity eclipses yours. Or the colleague who is
reaping all the recognition that you deserve.
When I was a journalist at the Chicago Tribune, I had plenty of enemies. They were reporters
at the Sun-Times, the Daily News, and the various broadcast stations who would strive to beat me
to stories. I felt intense malice toward them because in order for them to succeed, they had to
cause me to fail. Even now that I'm a Christian author and speaker-although I'm terribly
embarrassed to admit this-I sometimes jealously view others as opponents if they turn a better
phrase or score higher with audiences. Such can be the depth of my own sinful pettiness.
We all have rivals. In fact, let me press the issue further by asking you to get specific: Who are
the adversaries in your life? What are their names? Actually bring one of their faces into your mind,
because I don't want us to stay merely in the realm of the hypothetical. Let's talk about real people, real
relationships, real conflict-and the road toward real healing.
What's Love Got to Do with It?
Exactly what do you need to do about that person you've brought into your mind? It's too general
just to say that you're supposed to love him or her. Should you stop competing with this
individual? Should you become best buddies or golfing partners? Should you go on Caribbean
cruises together? Should you treat him or her like a son or daughter?
Jesus was very precise in choosing a word for "love" that doesn't imply emotion as much as it
suggests attitude and action. As difficult as it sounds, he's urging us to have a humble, servant
demeanor toward people who are our adversaries. To look for the best in them and offer help as
they need it. To have a sense of goodwill and benevolence toward them in spite of their lack of
the same toward us. To pray for their welfare and the well-being of their families. Even though
we may continue to compete with them, we are to do so fairly and respectfully, not maliciously as
if we're trying to destroy them.
Technically, we aren't being asked to like the other person, because that would require an
emotion that we sometimes can't conjure up, despite our best intentions. But in effect we are to
treat them as though we like them-because that's a decision of our will. We don't have to
approve of what they are, what they've done, or how they conduct their affairs, but we are to lovewho they are-people who matter to God, just like you and me. People who have failed but who
are eligible for God's forgiving grace.
In fact, the Bible says, "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still
sinners, Christ died for us." Amazingly, God's response to our rebellion against him wasn't to
declare war on us as his enemies. Instead, he returned love for evil so the path could be paved for
us to get back on good terms with him. And that's the kind of love he wants us to extend to those
who have crossed us.
But if you are mentally focusing on a particular rival right now, then my guess is that a one-word
question has just popped into your mind: "Why? Why should I return goodwill for ill will?"
For those who are followers of Jesus, the answer is simple: he said that this is the pattern of
living he wants his people to pursue. And that's enough. We have confidence that he would never
ask us to do anything that would ultimately work to our detriment.
But even beyond that, there are tremendous payoffs for following this ostensibly outrageous
command. Although our motive shouldn't be to get something in return, the truth is that there's a
lot to be gained. In fact, these next few pages are going to focus on the extraordinary
psychological, physical, relational, spiritual, and kingdom benefits that accrue when we resolve to
forgive our adversaries.
The Psychological Benefit: Healing Our Mind and Emotions
"For as he thinks within himself," says the Bible, "so he is." In other words, people who entertain
bitter thoughts and exhibit an angry attitude toward their enemies often become bitter and angry
people. They become a hostage to their own hate. They don't hold a grudge as much as the
grudge holds them in its claws.
This was true for Elizabeth Morris, a woman from a small Kentucky town who told me about
her remarkable metamorphosis from an angry and embittered woman into someone who experienced
the freedom of becoming a grace giver.
Elizabeth described how she had been sitting up late in the evening two days before Christmas
in 1982, waiting for her son, Ted, to come home from his temporary job at a shopping mall. He
had just completed his first semester at college and was working to get some extra money during
the Christmas break.
But at 10:40 p.m., Elizabeth got the telephone call that all parents fear. "Mrs. Morris, this is
the hospital," said the voice. "Your son has been in an accident."
As it turned out, another young man who had been driving drunk-in fact, whose blood-alcohol
level was three times the legal limit-had crossed the highway's center line and
smashed head-on into Ted's car. The drunk driver was only slightly injured, but before the night
was over, eighteen-year-old Ted Morris was dead.
Elizabeth and her husband, Frank, were devastated. Ted was their only child, a well-behaved
son with a bright future, and suddenly he was gone. The Morrises' anger escalated when the
twenty-four-year-old man who killed Ted was given probation for the crime. Elizabeth told me
that the hatred within her was like a wildfire sweeping down a dry canyon, consuming every part
She began replaying the mental videotape of that night like a horror movie, over and over
again. She ached for revenge. Sometimes she would fantasize about driving down the street and
encountering Tommy Pigage, the man who killed her son. She would imagine hitting him with
her car, pinning him up against a tree, and watching him suffer in agony as she slowly crushed
him to death.
She spent a lot of her spare time actually tracking Tommy to see if she could catch him
violating the terms of his probation, so he would be sent to prison. Over time her bitterness and
negative attitude began to drive a wedge between her and her husband. It began to chase away her
friends. It drained away her ability to laugh and enjoy life.
And that's the psychological reason why forgiveness makes so much sense. Acrid bitterness
inevitably seeps into the lives of people who harbor grudges and suppress anger, and bitterness is
always a poison. It keeps your pain alive instead of letting you deal with it and get beyond it.
Bitterness sentences you to relive the hurt over and over. Elizabeth described it as a cancer that
was eating away at her from the inside.
She desperately wanted help, but it was some time before she discovered the only cure.
Elizabeth came to the realization that her heavenly Father also had lost his only Son. And yet
when Jesus was suffering on the cross-before he died as payment for Elizabeth's own
wrongdoing-he looked at the merciless soldiers who were in charge of torturing him and said,
"Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."
That's when Elizabeth knew it was time for her-as an act of her will-to offer forgiveness
to the man who killed her only son. So that's what she did. And over time as her attitude began to
change, not only was she rescued from her caustic bitterness but she and her husband were
actually able to build a relationship with their son's killer. In fact, it was their friendship that
influenced Tommy Pigage to begin following Jesus and turn his life around.
As unbelievable as it sounds, Elizabeth's husband, a part-time preacher, ended up baptizing
Tommy, and as Tommy emerged from beneath the water, symbolizing the renewal of his life
through Christ, they hugged and sobbed. Later he presided at Tommy's wedding. The Morrises
began riding to church every Sunday with Tommy and his wife, and together they worshipped the
God of the second chance.
How were the Morrises able to do all that? Because their animosity toward Tommy, the
killer, had been replaced by their acceptance of Tommy, the person who matters to God. And the
result has been a personal peace that goes beyond human understanding.
"I can't tell you how good it felt to get on with life, to laugh again, to finally shake free from
that anchor of hate that weighed me down," Elizabeth told me.
That's one of the greatest benefits of forgiving those who have harmed us.
The Physical Benefit: Neutralizing Our
In my conversations with Elizabeth Morris, she made a casual comment that seemed extreme at
first but that I later came to recognize as being chillingly accurate. "I think in the long run," she
said, "it would have destroyed me if I hadn't forgiven Tommy."
By now I've seen enough scientific studies to conclude that bitterness and bottled-up anger
don't just mess with our minds but also threaten our very lives. Declared an article in the New
York Times: "Researchers have gathered a wealth of data lately suggesting that chronic anger is
so damaging to the body that it ranks with-or even exceeds-cigarette smoking, obesity, and
a high-fat diet as a powerful risk factor for early death."
In one study at the University of Michigan, a group of women was tested to see who was
harboring long-term suppressed anger. Then all the women were tracked for eighteen years, and
the outcome was startling: the women with suppressed anger were three times more likely to have
died during the study than those who didn't have that kind of bitter hostility. A similar study was
performed over twenty-five years on males who were graduates of the medical school at the
University of North Carolina. The results showed that the physicians with hidden hostilities died
at a rate that was six times greater than those who had more forgiving attitudes.
There's plenty of anecdotal evidence, too. One woman who helped victims of German
atrocities recover after World War II noticed an amazing phenomenon among her patients. Those who
developed forgiving attitudes toward their enemies were able to rebuild their lives despite their
injuries. But the patients who were steeped in bitterness remained invalids.
The medical evidence is clear and mounting. It's no exaggeration to say that bitterness is a
dangerous drug in any dosage and that your very health is at risk if you stubbornly persist in
The Relational Benefit: Holding Out Hope of Reconciliation
At the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, as the tension was building toward what could have
been the outbreak of World War III, Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev sent an urgent
communiqué to President John F. Kennedy. In part, the message said,
You and I should not now pull on the ends of the rope in which
you have tied a knot of war, because the harder you and I pull,
the tighter the knot will become. And a time may come when this
knot is tied so tight that the person who tied it is no longer
capable of untying it, and then the knot will have to be cut.
What that would mean I need not explain to you, because you
yourself understand perfectly what dread forces our two countries
In effect, when you make the decision to return good for evil, you're choosing to stop yanking
on the rope of conflict and making the knot in your relationship so tight that it can never be untied.
By simply dropping your end of the cord, you're loosening the tension and preserving the
possibility that the still-loose knot might somehow be untangled by the two of you. This
maintains the hope-however faint-that reconciliation might someday occur.
As you think of the adversary whose face you've brought into your mind, you might be
tempted to rule out any likelihood of ever having a civil relationship with him or her.
But don't write off anything too quickly.
"There were probably some Christians who hated Saul when he was filled with malice and
breathing threats and murder against the church," said David Dockery and David Garland inSeeking the Kingdom. "Who would have guessed that he would become the apostle Paul, .
preaching . love and forgiveness? The one who treats us as our enemy today may become our
brother or sister tomorrow. Jesus says to treat them today as our brother and sister."
Hatred writes people off; love holds out hope.