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Answering The Atheist
October 29, 2006 / Volume 6, Issue 44

How should we treat our enemies? Some texts say we should love them, be kind to them, and treat them well (Ex 23:4; Pr 25:21; Mt 5:44; Lk 6:35), but other texts say we should hate them and wish them evil (Ps 35:6,8; 55:15; 58:6-7; 69:22-28; 83:9-10, 15-17; 109:6-14; Lam 1:21-22; 3:64-66; 1 Cor 16:22). Is there a contradiction?

First, let it be noted that in the first set of verses listed, God's people are commanded to do good to their enemies. The child of God has no right to mistreat or do evil to another. In Romans 12:17-21, we read,

"Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord. Therefore ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
It is not the place of the child of God to repay evil for evil. God commands that we do good, even when evil has been done to us. But, in the midst of this, He also reveals that He will avenge His people. As we consider the second list of verses, it is noteworthy that most of them are from the book of Psalms, and further, that these are for the most part, personal prayers of David. None serve as an injunction for God's people to do evil to their enemies, in fact, we can read of Psalmist's attempts to do good to those who were mistreating him (35:13-14; 109:4-5).

In none of the texts listed, does the writer say that he hates his enemy, nor that he is going to repay wickedness for wickedness, but rather, he appeals to God's vengeance for His people; he calls upon God to deliver him from the grasp of his enemies; he prays for God's righteous judgment and deliverance to come (35:1,17,23-24; 55:16,18,22; 58:10; 69:1,13-14,18; 109:26-27 ). Of particular interest, in Psalm 83:16, the writer calls upon God to "...fill their faces with shame, that they may seek Your name, O LORD." Here, the writer, though acknowledging the wickedness of his enemies, and praying for God to respond against them, is seeking the best for his enemy's soul.

Likewise, the texts in Lamentations call upon God to judge the wicked for their wickedness. Note, asking God to judge those who do evil is not "hating" or "wishing evil" on another, but is expecting God to keep His word, namely that those who are obedient and do righteousness will stand before Him, and those who are disobedient and do wickedness with come into judgment. This is also the manner of 1 Corinthians 16:22. The apostle Paul is not expressing hatred or a desire for evil to befall his enemies, he is writing of God's justice and wrath upon those who do not follow Jesus Christ.

There is no contradiction here.

This article is a response to Skeptic's Annotated Bible