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Can We Dispense With Enmity?

Updated: Jul 11, 2022

"And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel" (Genesis 3:15).

"...he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another" (3 Nephi 11:29).

Contention is Satan's tool. The Savior's words are clear on that and the truth of it has been discernible to me for a long time. Because of that, I guess I've kind of assumed that the spirit of enmity was Satan's as well. But the Genesis story seems to indicate that it was the Father who introduced enmity between Satan and humans. I think I need to understand this better.

Webster's 1828 defines enmity as:

"the opposite of friendship; ill will; hatred; unfriendly dispositions; malevolence. It expresses more than aversion and less than malice, and differs from displeasure in denoting a fixed or rooted hatred, whereas displeasure is more transient."

As far as I can tell, prior to the fall, Satan harboured ill will, hatred and malevolence toward Adam and Eve, but they had no such feeling toward him. That's why he was able to approach them in the Garden of Eden and beguile them into partaking of the forbidden fruit, because they wished him well and assumed his motives were friendly.

It seems like they needed the gift of some natural antipathy toward Satan for their own protection. And so, after the fall, the Father gave them a sense of enmity toward him, a natural inclination to reject and recoil from him. I think this functions at a primal, subconscious level. It causes goosebumps, inner warning bells, and an encroaching sense of ill-ease around his influence.

Satan, though, is the ultimate opportunist and has been making enmity his playground ever since. He nudges goosebumps toward morbid fascination. He takes the urge to recoil and coats it with shaming, crafting taboos that coach us to blind ourselves to each other's humanity. He whispers to us that we are superior to those who sin in ways we find repellent, and cultivates contention and cruelty that wear a cloak of self-righteousness.

So what should I do with that inner sense of enmity? I don't think I should reject it as Satan's tool. Nor should I let it overwhelm me because it came from God. I think I should use it how I think the Lord designed it -- as an inner warning system. I think that a feeling of enmity, like anger, alerts us to present danger. It calls me to take mindful stock of my situation, to seek for the voice of the Lord, and then, to move forward in love, as an instrument of grace.

Divinely-instilled enmity is not incompatible with love. We know that because Jesus taught, "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;" (Matthew 5:44). However much I sometimes want to believe it, He did not teach, "You have no enemies but those you create yourself. If you will just love and trust everyone, they will all become trustworthy."

So how do I love an enemy while acknowledging enmity?

Just over a week ago in Texas, the people of Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville Texas welcomed Malik Faisal Akram to their synagogue. They didn't know that the British Pakistani had chosen their place of worship as the nearest Jewish target to the Federal Prison where Pakistani Aafia Saddiqui is serving out an 86-year sentence for terrorism. They did know that is was cold outside. Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker gave the British Pakistani a cup of tea, chatted with him and offered him an Uber ride to a homeless shelter. Then he invited Mr. Akram to their Sabbath service. When Jeffery Cohen, vice-president of the synagogue's board of trustees arrived, the rabbi pointed out their guest to him. Mr. Cohen went over and welcomed him and assessed for red flags. There were none. Mr. Akram smiled and seemed calm, without darting eyes or clenched fists. But part way through morning prayers, about 11 am, he started shouting and brandishing a pistol. He took the rabbi, Mr. Cohen and two others hostage in a bid to get Ms. Saddiqui released from prison. He ordered them to the back of the room, but they aligned themselves with an exit. At this point, the service was being livestreamed. Mr. Akram was heard to say, "I like the rabbi, he's a good guy, I bonded with him, I really like him...I've only been here a couple hours but I can see he's a good guy."

About 5 pm, he let one of the hostages, an older man, go. Those who remained kept him engaged in conversation, which seemed to help him stay calm. But around 10 pm, hungry, tired and frustrated when his demands weren't being met, he hung up on negotiators and told the remaining three to kneel. Mr. Cohen realized they were about to be killed. He recalls, "I reared up in my chair, stared at him sternly. I think I slowly moved my head and mouthed NO. He stared at me, then moved back to sit down." In the process, he turned to pour himself some soda, and at that moment, the rabbi yelled "Run!" and threw a chair at Mr. Akram. The hostages fled together and got out safe with Mr. Akram behind them. He ducked back inside pursued by FBI; there was a boom, some shots, and then he was dead.

According to Mr. Cohen,

"We escaped because we had training from the Secure Community Network on what to do in the event of an active shooter. This training saved our lives -- I am not speaking in hyperbole here -- it saved our lives.

It seems this is a powerful example of what it means to love your enemies while acknowledging enmity. It means being aware of danger, preparing to know what to do in case of an attack, and being vigilant with best practices that give limited scope to a potential enemy. Those who took the training didn't think anything would ever happen "here" in their sleepy town of 26,000. But the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue massacre brought home the certainty that they had enemies, and they were going to be prepared. In a place of relative safety, where they were inclined to trust their neighbours, they prepared for an attack. And when one came, they were able to get out alive.

There's a spiritual parallel as well. The Secure Community Network training that Mr. Cohen credits with saving their lives seems to me to equate with the protective guidance the Lord has provided through the ages by way of His prophets. Sometimes, prophetic counsel may seem overly prescriptive, even paranoid. There is, for example, the General Handbook section on hypnosis (38.7.6) that says; "For some people, hypnosis can compromise agency. Members are discouraged from participating in hypnosis for purposes of demonstration or entertainment." My youngest was one of a very few of his friends who were aware of that warning when a hypnotist was hired to entertain his mostly-LDS graduating class. He would have liked to have volunteered to be one of the subjects, and he watched closely for anything that could indicate lasting damage. He saw nothing, presumably because none of the subjects was particularly vulnerable and that hypnotist had no malicious agenda. The warning isn't there to protect from friends, but from potential enemies.

If I acknowledge the potential for enmity, if I'm prepared and anchored in best practices, I am free to be kind and welcoming to strangers because I can form an exit strategy if it turns out the person I treated as a friend has malicious intent. But even if that happens, even if they take me hostage, I need to remember their humanity, relate to them as people, look them in the eyes.

I wonder what would have been the end of the story if Mr. Akram had not been fatally shot. It sounds to me like he was on a terrorist mission he thought he could fulfill as long as he didn't see his victims as people. But their humanity kept encroaching on his heart and complicating things. The hostages said he waffled between making antisemitic statements and being apologetic. And then, when it appeared he was about to kill them, one of them looked him in the eyes and gave him a stern no, and he backed down. I wonder, if Mr. Akram had been arrested instead of killed, whether he might have made his journey out of being their enemy.

I can only speculate and that doesn't seem fruitful. But what is fruitful is to recognize that loving is not incompatible with acknowledging that the person I love has the potential of being my enemy. I don't have to put myself in danger, closing my eyes and ears to red flags and warnings, or offer trust that hasn't been earned in order to love. Instead, I can be kind and treat everyone with good will while recognizing the potential for betrayal. I can have an open heart in spite of living in a world of enmity when I listen for the whisperings of the Spirit, honour the warnings of living prophets, and conduct my business in accordance with best practices.

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