– “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:12
The Taliban in the area of Afghanistan where I was deployed in 2012 did not behave well. They planted IEDs in roads that indiscriminately killed not only our soldiers, but also local villagers. They “hired” local village boys to plant IEDs or other kinds of explosive devices, and, often times, those young boys failed to properly implant the mines, subsequently blowing off a hand or two. They usually wound up at our COP (Combat Outpost) in need of immediate medical attention. Moreover, many of the Taliban in our area severely bullied and oppressed the local villagers and farmers. For example, after we had brought the local governor back into the district after a year-long absence, and began to issue government IDs to locals, our intelligence collectors began to hear reports of the Taliban busting into peoples’ homes, who they suspected of having “colluded with the Afghan government and the US.” Further reports suggested that the Taliban would behead those they found with government IDs and stuff the paper IDs into their severed heads. And so on, and so on it. Safe to say, the Taliban behaved badly. I think we would all agree on that.
Still, for a small group of us, all Christian brothers fighting together in this district, we made it a daily practice to get up early and pray before our patrols went out. We prayed for the safety of our fellow comrades, we prayed the blood of Jesus over our base, the district and that entire blood-stained land. Most of all, however, we chose to pray for our enemies. We prayed for the Taliban we were called to face in combat. We prayed they would lay down their weapons, before we found them. We prayed they would turn themselves in, before we captured them, and that they would find peace before peace was made for them. We prayed to Jesus that He would show himself to anyone who was planning to shoot at us, to RPG us, or who was trying right at that very moment to embed or hook up an IED. We prayed they would convert and that their hearts would turn to Jesus. Then, before we went out on patrols, we would pray that we would win, that our bullets would strike first, and that we would be victorious in battle. After all, we were not stupid, and we were there as Christian “soldiers” not just as missionaries.
I think that by praying for such a ruthless enemy, we were able to dignify that enemy at the same time. Through our prayers we were able to recognize that these were still men, men who, in spite of their immoral activity, their horrendous behavior, were still image-bearers of the God who made them. So, I imagine if one can, at least to some degree, show honor to an enemy like the Taliban, that we here in our own country could find it within us to honor men and women with whom we disagree on things like politics or social issues. If we cannot, and if we cannot pray for each other, then I am afraid our country and the social fabric that holds it together may not last. One verse that I memorized while in Afghanistan and that really hit home for me, especially in my efforts to love my enemy, was Ephesians 6:12, where Paul tells us clearly that we are not, we are not at war with flesh and blood, but rather we are at war with cosmic powers and principalities, and against the spiritual forces in the heavenly places. Our war is not with the flesh and blood person in front of us, it is with false beliefs, bad ideologies, and, ultimately, with the Father of lies, who is always sowing seeds of discontent. That said, it’s my prayer that we keep the real enemy in our crosshairs, and not each other.