“And the Lord said, ‘You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?’” (Jonah 4:10–11 ESV)
Two Difficult Truths as Seen in the Book of Jonah
God often delights to save people we dislike and disagree with
Apparently, Jonah was a pretty good theologian. What can we say about the Assyrians? Their religion was pure paganism. We would expect a revival like this to happen in Jerusalem, where the Torah was taught and known. Theologically, there could be no more different people on the planet from Jonah than the Assyrians. Yet God delighted to bring revival to Nineveh.
If you are a Republican, how would you feel about a massive revival at the Democratic National Convention this summer? Or if you are a Democrat, what if God chose to work in a powerful revival at the Republican National Convention? If you are a Bears fan, what if revival broke out at Lambeau field? Now pastor, we draw the line there! Here’s what’s true:
God often delights to save people different from us
When God works or saves or blesses people different from us, do we resent it? Jonah did. He didn’t want God’s grace poured on the Ninevites. At his heart, Jonah was a spiritual racist. We don’t want people like them getting God’s grace. Why? They were racially different from the Jews. Spiritually different. Culturally different. No, not them!
But we side with the wideness of God’s mercy and love. He cared for Nineveh. He knew how many lived there. He knew their need and sent Jonah with the message they needed.
So here we are, a local church in a community of ethnic diversity, language diversity, and a history of racial tensions and distrust. Jonah 4 directly challenges us to ask the question, will we view people like Jonah or like God? Which lens?
What would Jonah’s lens look like? We’d be a church pretty much unto ourselves. We’d cloister. Hunker down. We would definitely care for our children’s faith and want to make sure everyone in our church is saved and growing. We maybe wouldn’t say it, but subtly we would think our church is the best; that we uniquely deserve special favor from God. Our doctrine is better. Our approach is better. We are better. With the Jonah lens, how does a South Lake County Christian feel when he or she hears yet another black teen is gunned down in Gary? Or another story of a politician’s corruption negatively affects the quality of life in a North Lake County community…or, or, or?
Here’s one: a white, evangelical Christian hears that Kanye West is now professing Jesus as his Savior? What? A rapper? Married to a Kardashian? God can’t save someone like that! That’s Jonah.
Last year I spoke on race and used the term “African Americans.” Later, I received a letter criticizing me for using the term “African Americans.” Why would I do that? Because as I understand it, that’s a preferred term and I do so out of respect, Jonah. By the way Jonah, can we agree you should be glad the fish wasn’t a racist?
Pastor Dave Stone shared what happened when an African American family joined his friend’s church in Louisville in the 1980s. Shortly after the family joined, the wife began attending some of the women’s events. After one of the meetings, a member innocently said to her, “Margaret, it’s so good to have you. I don’t want to say the wrong thing, so tell me, do you prefer to be called African American, Black, or Negro?” Margaret looked at her and smiled. “I think I’d just like to be called Margaret.” People, NOT labels. People, NOT stereotypes.
“The truth is that there is no black race—and there is no white race. So the idea of “racial reconciliation” is a false idea. It’s a lie. It implies that there is more than one race. This is absolutely false. God created only one race—the human race.” (John Perkins)
God cares for the human race in all of its beautiful diversity. The lens we should have must be God’s, not Jonah’s. As Jesus bore humanity’s sin on the cross, he was personally bearing sin across all the ethnicities. White sin. Black sin. Latino sin. Asian sin. Indian sin. Jesus was no racist; he willingly bore the sin of every skin color of humanity. That’s how God sees it. That’s how God sees us.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
© 2020 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.
 Story related by Dave Stone as quoted by John Perkins, One Blood: Parting Words to the Church on Race and Love, p. 121.
 John Perkins, Ibid., p. 17.
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