Elmer hated everyone, especially Christians. To terrorize and instill fear was his chief aim in life. Until 2006 Elmer was a guerilla commander in the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC); killing, displacing people, and wreaking havoc on lives was an everyday occurrence.
What were you doing in those years leading up to 2006? Might hatred ever have expressed itself in your life? Through gossip? Through harsh words or violence to those closest to you? Through envy when others enjoyed possessions you could never afford?
In a pivotal moment of Elmer’s life, hiding in a cave from government soldiers, God revealed Himself to him. Trying four times to commit suicide as a solution to his problems, he was stopped from expressing his self-hatred by overt messages of God’s deep love for him. When Elmer finally surrendered his life totally to Jesus, a deep transformation occurred. He began to love. His family recognized it. His colleagues recognized it. His enemies recognized it. He was under a new mandate: to love others.
Elmer’s life-change is neither an incidental nor coincidental occurrence in the movement known as ‘Christianity’. It is the very core of what Jesus came to earth to do two thousand years ago. Listen.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34,35). The new commandment replaces a ream of old ones. Tradition had layered an oppressive accumulation of do’s and don’ts upon the people of Jesus’ culture, which failed to conceal their core condition: they were characterized by anything but love.
Can you relate? Do you sometimes surprise yourself when something comes out of your mouth that sounds downright nasty? Where did that come from, you wonder? Or maybe in a moment of tension you erupt into violent action. Did that come from me, you ask? I ask myself that at times. I think if we are honest we will admit we need that new commandment. Whether we ever followed the old Judeo-Christian ethic or not, we know we are not essentially lovely people. Our consciences have tried to tell us that over the years, and, not knowing how to solve the dilemma, we have ignored and silenced the worrisome admission. Besides, we have never killed anyone. We’re not like Elmer.
But aren’t we? Jesus confronted religious leaders of His day who insulated themselves with a similar self-righteous attitude. He said pride is hatred. Lack of forgiveness is hatred. Thinking harsh thoughts of others is hatred. It’s a disease that goes deeper than we ever imagined and we all have succumbed to it, try as we might to hide it.
But Jesus brings it into the open. He did it for Elmer and He does it for us. Listen to Him. “Love one another”. It’s an impossible command except for one critical point. He is willing to inhabit us, bringing His expansive love along as a resource for our transformation. His love enables us to love.
Elmer’s family found that out. So did the Christians He used to persecute. Even his compatriot FARC guerilla soldiers found that out and are continuing to do so daily. Elmer is a different man now.
How does this relate to us? First, we’re not very different than Elmer. We’ve had episodes of hate, just in different ways (or we have had fewer opportunities to express it fully like him). Would you agree? Second, we too can be transformed, as he is, to whatever degree we choose to surrender to Jesus. Did you know that, I mean, really know that? Jesus is love, and He wants to love others through us as He is doing today through Elmer. This new commandment is a win-win situation if we will only choose to obey it. Let’s give Jesus the chance to prove He can do it in us. What is there to lose other than something that was consuming us anyway?
(The story of Elmer can be found in the Feb. 2014 issue of The Voice of the Martyrs magazine)