Friday, October 2, 2015

Are We Like Jonah?

Jonah Preaching to the Ninevites by Gustav Dore
One of the most fascinating books of the Bible is the book of Jonah.  For those of you who are not familiar with it, I will give you a brief synopsis.

Jonah was a man called by God to go to the capital of the Assyria; to a city called Nineveh.  His message was simple.  Nineveh was to repent or be destroyed.

Jonah did not want to go, so he boarded a ship to Tarshish which was in modern day Spain.  (At the time, this was about as far away from Nineveh as people could get.)  Some think that Jonah ran from Nineveh because he feared death at the hands of the evil people there, but we will soon see that this was not the case.

God sent a storm to trouble the ship and get Jonah’s attention.  When the sailors feared for their lives, Jonah confessed that he was fleeing from God’s call and that the storm was because of him.  However rather than requesting that they turn the ship around, he asked to be thrown into the sea.  He would rather have died than go to Nineveh.

The sailors oblige the reluctant profit and throw him in the sea where Jonah is promptly swallowed by a giant fish.  (Sadly, this is the point of the story that gets the most attention.  The point of the story is not giant fish and the miraculous properties of their amazing stomachs.)

Jonah still does not want to go to Nineveh, and probably hopes he will die.  Yet he survives for days in the belly of the fish.  After three days and nights, he finally repents and calls out to God.  God hears his call and has the fish spit him out on dry land.  (Note that it took three days in a fish belly for Jonah to repent.  He really did not want to go to Nineveh.)

Jonah finally goes to Nineveh and delivers God’s message.  He then experiences what was likely the greatest missionary success in the history of the world.  The entire city repented and turned from their evil ways!  God spared the city, and everyone was saved!

Jonah was not happy.  You see, the real reason he did not want go to Nineveh was that he wanted the city to be destroyed.  He knew God was merciful and loving, and he did not want his enemies to taste the goodness of God.   The story ends with Jonah upset at God for destroying a vine that gave him shade while showing no regard for the people of Nineveh.

The ministry was a success, but the minister was far from God.

Modern Jonahs

Assyria no longer exists.  It has been replaced by several smaller countries including one with a similar name—Syria.  This is the same Syria from which thousands of refugees are now fleeing.  We as Christians have a great opportunity to show them God’s love.  Yet sadly, love is not the response many of them are finding as they flee for their lives.

Some here in the West fear that the refugee crisis is a cover for an attack from terrorists.  Others fear that this is all a Muslim plot to change western culture.  Many excuses are made for not helping.  Yet excuses reveal apathy, not truth.

It is entirely possible that by showing God’s love to refugees, that they will come to know the love of God that we have found in Jesus.  At the very least we could comfort them in their time of trouble.  But perhaps we don’t want this to happen.  Perhaps we don't want them to be comforted.  Perhaps we don’t want them to be saved.

Is it possible that we will not help because we fear success?  Could it be that we, like Jonah, don’t want God to show mercy?