When I was in grade school, a girl was mad at me and wanted to fight. I was scared sick. I was implementing my typical conflict response of flight, until the girl challenged me after school one day. She came at me, and somewhere inside my flight I turned to fight. I think I surprised her; I know I surprised myself. Who knew I had that in me? The scuffle was silly and harmless, and she ended up backing down. I went home shaking with adrenaline and fear, praying to never cross paths with that enemy again.

Years later, I look back upon the situation with amusement. Two preteen girls in a skirmish? Please. What sort of grade school disagreement could be so dire as to require a physical showdown? As silly as it all was, we were still enemies from that day forward. If I saw her or heard about her after the fight, I pretended I didn’t know her. I cut her off because I didn’t know how to deal with the fear and uncertainty of another round, or even my own aggressive behavior.

I wasn’t a Christian then, but when I came to faith in Jesus, I found that my natural bent toward flight seemed to fit better with what I was reading in Scripture—at least, in terms of not escalating conflicts. Later I would learn that about half of my flight instincts were keeping me from obeying other commands, such as honesty, bold witness, and so on. In particular, my willingness to flee from enemies rather than stay put to work toward reconciliation and restored relationship diminished God’s ability to do the miraculous. I am still learning how to check my flight instinct before obeying it.

But not all Christians have a natural bent to flight; some Christians are more than happy to turn any slight into a conflict, any challenger into an enemy. I can only presume their fight instinct is wrong about half of the time, that they are also still learning how to check it before obeying it.

Both fight and flight have a place, even in the Christian life, but discerning which is appropriate in a particular circumstance is complicated. Some conflicts are intense; some are more steady and sit on a backburner. Some enemies are age old, while others have just recently appeared. Whatever the details, enemies must be faced within and without, and we need help doing it in ways that will honor God.

This issue of Christ and Pop Culture Magazine is dedicated to our enemies and what they teach us. Trudy Smith’s feature, “Encountering the Enemy: Using Film to Nurture Peace in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,” details the amazing reconciliatory work being done by a group seeking peace in a place defined by its historical conflicts. Smith challenges us to reconsider how we view our enemies. She probes:

“Do we have the courage to meet our enemies and to discover ourselves in them?”

We tend to distance ourselves from our enemies, whitewashing our actions and attitudes while shredding those of the enemy. According to John Lawrence Heberle, finding common ground is the beginning of something more powerful. In the feature, “Where Cyclical Violence Dies,” Heberle examines the ability of stories to mirror the enemy actions we are blind to:

“Stories of extreme revenge, whether fictional or real, help us to see the cycles of vengeance in our own hearts.”

Abigail Dillon, in her feature “Enemies and Friends in the Halo Franchise,” follows the threads of grace and mercy woven throughout the videogame’s mega storyline. Grace and mercy are powerful forces that make space for enemies to become allies, and even friends.

Engagement with our enemies will be necessary in this life. Whether our natural bent is toward flight or toward fight, keeping those reactions in check will help us respond to conflict as the new creatures God has made us to be. As God’s former enemies, we know firsthand the transformation that’s possible when creative displays of grace and mercy are shown. Certainly such miracles are possible again today when we look for common ground, see our own propensity for vengeance, and make space for something new to emerge.

Illustration courtesy of Seth T. Hahne. Check out Seth’s graphic novel and comic review site, Good Ok Bad.