1. Name one or two key factors that prompted the original idea for this book.
As a culture, the U.S. has lost the ability to understand people with whom we disagree. We vilify and demonize those who have different religious, political, or cultural views and values than we do. I wanted to find a way to practice empathizing with those we view as villains, and where better to start than with the villains of Scripture? If we can put them in their historical context, we can begin to practice a little creative empathy. And if we can do it with Cain, Delilah, Jezebel, Herod, Herodias, Judas, and even Satan, then maybe we can imagine reaching across the aisle to make friends.
I believe friendship is a distinctively Christian practice. The heart of the Good News about Jesus is that God befriended us when we were His enemies. If we can learn to imitate this, if we can make friends of enemies, we become a distinctly Christian community in a world that desperately needs more friends and fewer foes.
2. What three key takeaways from this book would you like for the reader to experience?
First, no one is a villain in his or her own mind. We all do what we consider right at the time. This includes the bad guys and gals of the Bible, and it includes the people we view as “the enemy.”
Second, before we can disagree with someone, we have to be able to say we understand. And once we begin to understand someone, we begin to see their humanity. That’s the image of God in them, and we can only respond to God’s image with love. So seeking understanding paves the way to a genuine love for our enemies.
Finally, we have much more in common with our villains and enemies than we do with God. We are all sinners, and the seeds of villainy live in our hearts as well. By practicing empathy for these villains, we can better see the seeds of sin in our lives and pluck them before they bear deadly fruit.
3. Do you have a favorite passage or chapter in this book?
Probably the Delilah short story. I was nervous about writing any fiction, and to write from a female perspective was even more daunting. But her story came to me almost in whole cloth, including the seven-part structure. Writing in flashback is a tricky storytelling device, but I think it worked well. I’m actually a little worried that people will think Delilah made the right decision when they see Samson through her eyes!
4. What specific ways can this book equip, encourage, or instruct ministers?
In a practical sense, this is probably great sermon and Sunday School fodder. Much biblical and historical work was done in the non-fiction sections, and I found that little research had been done on these Biblical personalities. My own congregation has enjoyed working through this material and has found it spiritually profitable.
On a personal level, I hope it will be encouraging. Every church is (and should be!) filled with people who don’t see eye to eye. Some of the most painful moments in pastoring come when we sit across the table from someone who disagrees with us (and doesn’t disagree well). I hope Empathy can be a guide and spur us to love those who are different from us, and that our churches become stronger for it.
5. If you were sitting beside the reader, what portion of the book would want him or her to spend extra time on, and why? BONUS: In that section, what might you add that could clarify and emphasize your goal for the section and the book?
I would love to see someone spend some extra time in the non-fiction reflection I did for Satan, particularly where I relate him to the older brother in the prodigal son story. So often we become barriers to God’s grace and mercy, all the while imagining ourselves to be God’s favored children. If there is one thing we could do much better, it would be to be a people of radical hospitality, known for welcoming those who found welcome nowhere else (because that’s how God welcomes us).
JR MADILL FORASTEROS is the teaching and discipleship pastor at Catalyst Community Church, a Nazarene congregation in Rowlett, Texas.