There are people I cannot bear to love. Rage springs up afresh in me when I think of those who spew racist hatred, or sexually exploit children, or commit acts of terrorist violence. The desire to hate also wells up within me toward people who’ve committed less extreme but equally infuriating acts against people I love—betrayers, liars, bullies, critics.
I could easily justify that instinctive desire to hate. For I hate evil—and it’s just a small step from hating evil to hating the bearers of evil.
But this is where Jesus confronts me: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43–44, NIV).
What does this call to love mean in the face of ISIS or the man on the sexual predators list down the street? What does this mean for the person who’s betrayed and cheated a loved one or the teen who’s bullied your child?
Does this mean drumming up patently false warm feelings or gritting our teeth as we will ourselves to push back hateful reactions? The will certainly plays a part as we assent to Jesus’ teaching. But there is a deeper idea that can help us grapple with and grow into this radical call. We find it in Genesis 1:27: “God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
This reality of the imago dei—that each of us, friends and enemies alike, are made in God’s image—calls us to recognize an innate worth that cannot be erased by any evil action. Here is the truth: That evil-bearer? He or she is also an image-bearer. And this has far reaching implications for each of us.1