I’ve been reading a new book by Pete Enns, How the Bible Actually Works: In Which I Explain How An Ancient, Ambiguous, and Diverse Book Leads Us to Wisdom Rather Than Answers-and Why That’s Great News 1. And on page 103 he writes what I consider to be one of the finest descriptions of dilemma confronted in the book of Jonah ever written,
I don’t want to use an inappropriate analogy, but God’s willingness to give the Ninevites a chance to repent while they were at the height of their destructive power might be compared to giving Stalin a chance to repent while he was starving millions of Russian farmers or Hitler while he was slaughtering millions of Jews. Who-with any active sense of justice-would want to give them a chance to repent of their wicked ways?!
The implied answer, of course, is, “No one, they deserved what they got.” And, in general, that’s not a bad assumption. I mean, there’s a reason why time travel conversations tend to bring up going back in time and killing baby Hitler 2.
And this got me thinking, which is almost always a dangerous thing.
As I look around our political 3 landscape it’s easy to see how the far political right fits in the Jonah mentality – white supremacy is a great image of the prophet fuming that God would dare to forgive “them.” But what about the far political left? Can Jonah’s attitude be found there?
Now, there are lot of people in my social circles who have come to the conclusion that “political left” equals, “good guys.” So even asking that question can cause people to get a bit anxious 4. After all, these folks want to see justice and real equity for folks of every color, economic class, educational level, legal status, gender identity, and sexual orientation – how could we even consider that they would be in any way similar to the “Neanderthals” on the far political right? Frankly, I feel weird even raising the question.
And that just may be the point. Jonah’s attitude celebrates hatred not just of “the other,” but hatred of the biggest and most violent oppressors in the Bible, the Assyrians 5. The people who should, by all accounts, be hated. Offering any kind of empathy for these deserving enemies, or warning them of just how much God loathes their actions, is plain wrong. They should be beaten back and defied at every opportunity.
And this makes me think of Twitter outrage, and the gleeful desire I find in some 6 folks from the more progressive end of my social connections. They want to go out and punch Nazis 7. Their reasons aren’t off the wall, either. I mean it’s hard to argue with, “Of course it’s ok to punch Nazis, they don’t even think of me as human.” Nazis, and their like, really are our modern version Ninevites, and you can’t argue that they shouldn’t be stopped with all the force necessary to do it.
Until Jesus shows up and throws a wrench in the logic.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous 8.”
And so I’m left wondering if some of my more militant acquaintances who work for social justice 9 don’t have more in common with Jonah than they do with Jesus. And, frankly, sometimes I ponder that possibility in myself.
I try to not have people I consider enemies, because I’ve seen how ugly I can become when I do have enemies 10. But I am very tempted to look upon people with whom I disagree, or are categorically wrong, as people worthy of being smote 11. Which is why I need to go back to the wisdom of Jesus, and the wisdom of Jonah with regularity, and get smacked between the eyes,
Then the LORD said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals? 12”
- It just rolls off the tongue. ↩
- For the record, and I am not in favor of the “let’s go kill Hitler” school of time travel. It was a great Dr. Who episode though. ↩
- “Politics” is more than just the functions of government, it’s literally about life in the “polis,” or city. Politics describes the practical working out of the theories of how to do that life. If that sounds like religion to you, its because the two concepts are oddly similar – religion is about the way we connect to one another and, typically, the divine. There’s a reason why these two ideas are so often joined in human history, but I digress. ↩
- Most of my social connections who are more “right” than I am seem to start from that point, they’ve been building ideological fortresses a lot longer. ↩
- Yah, the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem and tore down the Temple, but it also became a central location of Judaism for centuries. The folks who were carted off by the Assyrians just kinda fall off the map of history. ↩
- I cannot emphasize “some” enough, this attitude is rare, but it is real. It needs to be addressed. ↩
- Think Antifa ↩
- Matthew 5:43-45 NRSV. ↩
- It really shouldn’t need to be “social justice.” It should just need to be “justice,” since justice is the work of bringing people into a state of righteousness, or right relationships, which leads to shalom. Unfortunately, our system is so screwed up we do need to modify it as social justice. ↩
- The bristling outrage of righteous fury is intoxicating. ↩
- That’s just a great word. Dark meaning, but great word. ↩
- Jonah 4:10-11 NRSV ↩