“Well, of course I should love my neighbor.”
You can almost see the lawyer glance away from Jesus, hear him clear his throat as he thinks his way toward a loophole. Ah, he thinks, I’ve found it. His beard nearly concealing his smug smile, the lawyer asks, “But who is my neighbor?”
Slowly and completely Jesus cinches the loophole tightly closed as He unfurls the story of the Good Samaritan. To Jesus’ Jewish audience, however, “good” and “Samaritan” had never belonged in the same sentence. Samaritans were not neighbors. They were enemies—ethnically and religiously.
Maybe you have neighbors like that, too.
“Shoot First, Ask Questions Later”
If you hold anything dear—whether it’s freedom, privacy, self-esteem, faith, tolerance, safety, family, homeland security—you know the desire to protect what you value. Someone threatens your Dear Thing, and you want to cock your pistol and make sure they don’t come any closer. And if they do . . .
Pardon me if I mention here that the “shoot first, ask questions later” order came from the lips of Hermann Goering, founder of the Gestapo, and Hitler’s designated successor. Perhaps not your ideal role model?
Yet standing there with your finger on the trigger, you wonder what kind of nut would ever love his neighbor like the Samaritan Jesus described. He’d be naïve, foolish, reckless to give sacrificial kindness to someone who would normally (if he were not dying by the road) try to destroy him.
Is “shoot first” your default response at the approach of enemies—enemies of your values, your life, your faith, your family, your country?
Then stand down, soldier, and let me tell you a story.
(All quotes below are taken from Preemptive Love, by Jeremy Courtney)
Jeremy and Jessica Courtney had been living in Iraq for some time when they met a little girl with a hole in her heart. They didn’t expect her to change their lives. They were already busy helping war widows. They had no medical expertise. They couldn’t offer the kind of money required. Jeremy prepared to rattle off all those reasons not to help. But there stood the Iraqi father asking for surgery for his little girl.
Suddenly something inside Jeremy changed. Not his job, his expertise, or his finances. He says, “I was moved by the idea that this little girl could die without someone who would take the risk and intervene. And I knew I would want someone to take a risk for me if I was the one holding my [daughter] Emma in search of surgery.” Jeremy stared into the eyes of the Iraqi father, and realized this man he didn’t know was the neighbor Jesus meant.
“What changed was my heart,” Jeremy continues. “I moved from a policy of risk management and calculated charity to a way of life that seemed much more like the Jesus I had grown up hearing about…” A way of life that refused to withhold love from a neighbor just because he might be an enemy.
Once he resolved to procure life-saving heart surgery for this one little girl, Jeremy discovered an entire population in need. As many as 30 Iraqi babies a day were born with heart defects. The lucky ones made it onto a waiting list. Most of those were still waiting.
Many of the congenital heart defects resulted from chemical warfare. But causes mattered less than solutions. Jeremy rallied like-minded friends to seek solutions with him, eventually forming what is now known as the Preemptive Love Coalition. Their motto: “Love first. Ask questions later.”
Jeremy has described that philosophy and how it operates in this video from a Q Conference:
Isn’t That Dangerous?
It’s a philosophy fraught with risk. They’ve had bombs in their office. They’ve been betrayed by “moles” posing as helpers. They’ve had large donations withdrawn because they refused to funnel the funds to one ethnic group over another.
Jeremy described one of his most personal threats. “You are never ready for the day you wake up to find that a fatwa has been issued by prominent Muslim scholars calling for your death… The grand sheikh’s most poignant argument was this: ‘We must stop this treatment lest it lead our children and their parents to love their enemies, leading to apostasy!’ … I was genuinely overjoyed at the mullah’s conclusion… [H]e saw what we saw: that preemptive love had the capacity to overrun his hatred and unmake violence. . . because every act of violence can be spun one way or another to increase fear and ensconce the powerful, but only mercy, through a constant campaign of giving itself away, can undermine hate.”
Only mercy, through a constant campaign of giving itself away, can undermine hate.
In spite of all these dangers, PLC forged ahead. At first, with the only Iraqi heart hospital bombed into ruins, they transported the children out of the country to facilities and doctors elsewhere—even Israel. Eventually PLC created Remedy Mission, a program that brings international heart surgery teams into the country to provide pediatric cardiac training for Iraqi doctors.
Has it Worked?
Ask Chief Awad, influential leader of a tribe of hundreds of thousands, whose grandson received heart surgery. Watching children from every warring faction in Iraq playing together at the hospital with their parents chatting together nearby, he told Jeremy, “You guys are unlike the Americans and Christians we constantly hear about . . . You are truly messengers of peace. I will make my people happy over you.”
In that hospital ward, preemptive love unmade violence. Love saved lives. Love overcame hatred. Because some Christians acted like Christ.
Preemptive love is not people’s love overcoming hatred, Jeremy reminds us: “It’s God’s. Preemptive love is who God is. . . And when we accept God’s preemptive love, that Christ makes all things new, we can quit playing by everyone else’s rules and pursue a long, risky journey with the God who loves his enemies—even enemies like you and me.”
Whose rules shall you and I play by?
Or Jesus Christ’s?