Why is enemy formation so attractive? What is it in us that so often compels us to feel the need to create enemies?

The Book of Psalms contains a lot of enemy-formation. In the mind of the psalmist, he seems to have been surrounded by endless forces seeking to undermine his well-being. He encountered enemies at every turn in the road.

But, the Book of Psalms may also point a way to understand the root of enemy-formation and move beyond the destructive habit of viewing others as the enemy.

In Psalm 21 verse 6, the Psalmist, addresses God. Speaking of the king the psalmist says to God,

you make him glad with the joy of your presence.

The king has been made “glad” because he has experienced the divine “presence” in his life. It is the absence of this awareness of Presence that drives us to create enemies.

I make enemies because I lose touch with my true identity as a person in whom dwells the mysterious ineffable “presence” of the Divine. [I spoke about this in a slightly different way, in yesterday’s sermon on Psalm 8: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KlLXYeaS5Sw&t=422s%5D

When I forget that there is, at the centre of my being, a force that sustains all life, I feel compelled to manufacture my own little identity out of the bits and pieces of achievement, status and security that I am able to scrabble together on the surface of life. But, this little identity project leaves me with an inherently insecure sense of my self. In the face of insecurity and fear, I scramble to shore up my faltering identity by making you my enemy.

Richard Rohr writes,

We need to know, experientially, that ‘I am who I am who I am,’ and THAT naked, undecorated self is already and forever the beloved child of God. That is the whole thing!

It is the “decorated” self that feels surrounded by enemies. My fragile small self always feels threatened, uncertain, fearful. This vulnerable self seeks to defend itself barricaded behind a mighty fortress. But there is no rest for this fearful self; the enemies are always circling the encampment.

When I am able to let down my defensive walls and get in touch with “THAT naked, undecorated self,” I touch something steady and unshakeable. When I rest secure in my deep identity as “the beloved child of God,” I no longer need to fear the enemies my mind has manufactured. I discover that my “enemy” is equally a “beloved child of God,” not different from me, not worse, not better. We are all connected. The differences that appear to separate us exist only on the surface; they are real only in the nasty tight little airless room of my mind.

In the depths of my true identity as a child created in the image of God, I know we are one. This realization sets me free to follow Jesus’ command to

love your enemies (Matthew 5:44).

It is a profound challenge I will only be able to come close to fulfilling when I know that I share life with my “enemy.” The “enemy” is not other. The quarrel and the conflict subside when I see that my “enemies” are formed out of my own insecurity in my position, beliefs or actions.

I do not need to have all the right answers and to prove you wrong. I do not need to be seen to be more successful, powerful or prestigious than anyone else. I am free from judgment. I lay down my desire to divide the human community into the “good” people like me and the “bad” people who are different. Life ceases to be a threat; it is not a battle to be won. You are not a foe to be vanquished. You are, just as I am, a bearer of the inestimable and mysterious gift of life. We all manifest this gift imperfectly. But, the more I focus on my true identity as a gift-bearer, the less I feel the need to change and correct the other.

I no longer need to build up my fragile sense of identity by rallying the troops against some perceived danger. I do not need to defend myself. My true “I” is not fragile.

In this deep identity I discover the only real freedom possible for any human being. In this place, I have a strong awareness of my identity and the need for enemy-formation falls away.


nb: I am aware that this post comes from a privileged position of security and safety. I do not know what I might write about enemies if someone was banging down the door of my home threatening to harm my family. But I do know that when he faced violence and injustice, Jesus said to those who would use force to defend him,

Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.

Matthew 26:52