Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
People and animals alike must wear garments of mourning, and everyone must pray earnestly to God. They must turn from their evil ways and stop all their violence. Who can tell? Perhaps even yet God will change his mind and hold back his fierce anger from destroying us." When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry.- Book of Jonah
In this passage from one of the last books of the Old Testament, the prophet Jonah has been instructed to destroy the wicked city of Nineveh It is full of sinful people, and like Sodom and Gomorrah, God initially decides to eradicate from the face of the Earth this particularly large place. But at the last minute, God changes his mind and decides to spare the city from destruction. Jonah is infuriated by God’s reversal of initial plans. God response to Jonah is that the city has changed. It has heeded the warning of Jehovah and completely reversed course, for the better. Jonah is angered, as he has made many plans to act out, plans full of vengeance and hatred. He does not want to heed the command to cease these actions, as he has become obsessed with killing and waging destruction.
It is this story that first comes to mind for me when I think about the violence and toxic philosophy of Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists. Some of us are no doubt full of bile and furious anger when we contemplate their actions, and we observe the combustible opinions and deeds of those who want Confederate monuments to remain. There has been a tremendous amount of ugliness and negativity that makes me very sad. Surely we can do better, regardless of what side to which we have allegiance.
Sometimes people wish that judgment and destruction would come upon sinful people whose wickedness seems to demand immediate punishment. But God is more merciful than we can imagine. He feels compassion for the sinners that we want judged and he devises plans to bring them to himself. What is your attitude towards those who are especially wicked? Do you want them destroyed? Or do you wish that they could experience God’s mercy and forgiveness?
God believes that anyone who is willing to ask for forgiveness can receive it. None of us are trapped forever by our behavior, especially evil behavior. Everyone can change, even the people we least expect. Quakers like myself believe that the basic nature of every living human is good, and as much as some will disagree with me, I adhere to the basic tenent of my faith. It is easy to be more sensitive to our own interests than to the spiritual needs of people around us.
This story is, at bottom, about mercy. Jonah learned a valuable lesson about mercy and forgiveness. God’s forgiveness was not only for Jonah or for Israel alone, it extends to all who repent and believe. Every person has the ability within them to change. I’ve seen examples of this in my own life. Change is possible, even for the worst offender. When we do not believe this, it compromises our own humanity in the process. If we respond in obedience, he will be gracious, and we will receive his mercy, not his judgment. We sometimes feel that we have turned too sour and bitter, but we are always capable of returning from unhelpful and soul-killing points of view. I pray for this country for many reasons, and what I have described is a large portion of my concern.