I listened to a podcast today about praying for our enemies. There was a good deal of Screwtape-similar material about focusing on praying for what they might need, as you would for yourself, not what changes you would like God to make in them. Yet what caught my ear was that the original questioner had seemed to talk about "enemies" as a group, and relating it to current national anger. I wondered how much the language difference influences our thinking, and our praying. Not to get to heavily into set theory and symbolic logic, but "enemies" plural as a set might mean only "the people in my head I consider enemies," who are not in any other sets together. Yet the plural might also be interpreted as "communists," or "Nazis," or "Muslim terrorists," or "Republican establishment." More subtly, we may have many groups that we do treat as enemies and default to thinking of them as enemies but don't notice it because we have a few exceptions. We certainly see a lot of it in the news "I don't hate all Elbonians, it's just that as a culture they fail to realise..." Yeah, they're your enemies, and Jesus's directions to you were not to go out and change them but to pray for them.
The podcasters nicely moved the discussion to praying for our enemies in the very individual sense of those who have hurt us, or hurt those we care about. Only at the end did they swing back around and expand it to those who we see as political enemies, and by that time they had laid down enough principles that it was straightforward to note that our response should be the same.
Because it is the same. We can get worked up at the injustice they have wrought in both instances, but we tend to approach them differently. Both can provoke both righteous and self-righteous anger, but these tend to express differently.
I think I can risk telling a story closer to home, as it would be unlikely for it to get back to people who would feel insulted. The original father of one of my adopted sons was infuriating me over a decade ago, telling us how to parent and gumming up the works in a few ways. I mentioned this to a young friend at work, a kind young woman who comes out of a 12-step mentality and believes...well, everything, including contradictory things. She is an observant Catholic who goes to sweat lodge ceremonies and participates in tree-worship, loves the Dalai Lama and a dozen New-Agey prophets. I had often felt more than a little frustrated, and a little superior to this. But she absolutely leveled me, sweetly: "You should contract for fourteen days to pray for him what you would want for yourself." Well, that would be the love and admiration of my children, pretty much the one thing I didn't want for him.
BUt that's pretty much what praying for your enemies is, because anyone you have a conflict with is your enemy in that narrow way and in that moment even if it the person you love most in the world. (Related to my post of about a year ago You Cannot Forgive Your Parents, because you have to take them one at a time.)