Political Narratives and the Christian’s Neighbor
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. . . But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. Which of these. . . proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” Luke 10:25-37 (ESV)
Jesus told his Jewish audience to follow the example of a fictional Samaritan even though Jews and Samaritans despised each other. Why would Jesus use a Samaritan as the role model in his story?
First, and most obviously, Jesus wanted to communicate that His followers should show compassion and brotherly love to their enemies. The second thing we learn from Jesus’s story is that we should remember that even our most entrenched adversaries are still human in that they are capable of being what we temporally call “good people.” When we love our enemy and treat them as a neighbor, it should not by default feel as though we are embracing a pile of refuse. Rather, we should look at them and see both the fallenness and God-given desire for flourishing and goodness that we share in common with them.
It is clear in Jesus’s portrayal of the Samaritan from His story that this Samaritan was genuinely kindhearted. This was someone who, despite having the wrong ultimate view of what is really good, was at least able to get part of the way there and wanted to get there in terms of being morally good.
There are of course theological qualifications to be made here. As far as any human’s moral standing in relation to God is concerned, we are entirely fallen in our imperfection. But as far as any human’s temporal standing before another human is concerned, we ought to look at our adversaries and, with humility and a sense of camaraderie through our common struggle, see that we share with them both fallen corruption and a real desire for goodness and happiness.
This realization, though, lies in direct conflict with common political narratives. By virtue of fallen corruption, it is natural to wish to vilify our adversaries and cast them as irredeemably determined to hate and fight against goodness because they love evil for the sake of evil. Creating this kind of political narrative makes it easier to explain why people disagree with us, it frees us from the necessity of creating a positive account about why our conception of what is good is the correct one then having a hard dialogue about it, and it energizes us and gives a grand sense that we are fearlessly brave in the face of unadulterated evil.
In reality we are casting as entirely evil people who volunteer to coach their kids’s soccer teams, people who wish to care for the sick, people who volunteer out of compassion in local homeless shelters, and people who usually do really wish to make the world a better place. Our political adversaries may take a different view of what is good, but we must let their actions speak for themselves insofar as we judge whether they are at least trying to find and uphold goodness even if they are misguided about what it is.
In our hastiness to vilify our adversaries, we fundamentally fail to treat them as a neighbor, we alienate them, and by making hasty but convenient assumptions, we cost ourselves a chance to have a conversation about what is actually good and true. In holding to extreme political narratives about our adversaries being utterly devoid of desires to do and achieve what is good, we tell them that we do not value them as beings who should be listened to and reasoned with. In so doing we deny them one of the most basic privileges and signs of respect we could possibly extend to another human being, we fail to treat them as a neighbor, we lose an opportunity to extend the Gospel, and we break Christ’s second greatest commandment.
There will be some stubborn readers who will probably stop halfway through this and begin reminding themselves of every fully depraved person they can think of upon whom they rely to cling to their narratives. But these people fail to remember that the most depraved people can be our temporal allies just as readily as they can be our adversaries. As sad as it is, entire ranks from within the Church itself have willingly and knowingly done great evil in the world, caring little about trying to do what is good. Similarly, people who have never heard the name of God have throughout history demonstrated selfless nobility.
At the end of the day, we must abandon our political narratives and remember some of Scripture’s simplest mandates. We must love our neighbor, remember the humanity we share with our adversaries as beings created by and in the image of God, and judge those image-bearers according to the fruit they bear rather than the labels we assign to them through political narratives.
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K. William Huitt
K. William Huitt is currently an M.A. student in Western Michigan University’s philosophy program. He graduated from Hillsdale College in 2019 with a B.A. in philosophy and a minor in history. He has spoken at various Christian apologetics events and writes regularly about religious and political issues.