Jonah: Wake Up, Idiot!

Jonah runs from God.

We should all realize the ridiculousness of this decision. Unfortunately, we all too often find ourselves in the same boat (pun intended).


But look what happens next.

But the Lord hurled a powerful wind over the sea, causing a violent storm that threatened to break the ship apart. Fearing for their lives, the desperate sailors shouted to their gods for help and threw the cargo overboard to lighten the ship.
But all this time Jonah was sound asleep down in the hold. So the captain went down after him. “How can you sleep at a time like this?” he shouted. “Get up and pray to your god! Maybe he will pay attention to us and spare our lives.” (Jonah 1:4-6)

The reaction of the sailors is telling. They knew this storm was not natural. It takes them completely by surprise and with such a ferocity that it can only be divine in origin – a punishment from the gods upon someone aboard the boat.

We have information that the sailors don’t. Jonah has information the sailors don’t. This whole section is just fascinating. I want to make a few key observations about the story so far as the action picks up. The gentile, pagan sailors are set in direct contrast to the prophet of YHWH.

OUR RESPONSE TO TRAGEDY

The storm hits. The ship threatens to break up. The sailors begin throwing the cargo (their livelihood, the very thing that makes this whole mission economically viable) into the sea, and they begin to cry out to their gods. Not just “thoughts and prayers,” but prayer accompanied by action. These gentile idol-worshipers demonstrate what James means when he says “faith without works is dead.” It also reminds me of something St. Augustine said: “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.”

When tragedy strikes, by all means PRAY! But then do something about it.

Jonah did neither. He was down in the boat below deck. The Hebrew phrase may even indicate that he had holed up somewhere in the very cargo bay being emptied out by the sailors, and that’s how he was discovered. But he wasn’t just hiding. He was in a deep sleep. Not praying, not acting, not helping.

OUR REGARD FOR HUMAN LIFE

The sailors did everything they could to save the lives of everyone on board. They dumped the cargo. They cried out to their gods. They cast lots to discover the responsible party. And even when Jonah was found out and told them to toss him overboard, they still tried to save his life and row back to land. Saving human life was more important to them than the cargo. More than that, **and really listen to this** saving human life was more important to them than following the orders of God’s prophet! Even though the prophet of YHWH was telling them to let him drown, they didn’t want to accept that course of action. Even though Jonah was the one responsible for this tragedy, the sailors still thought his life was worth saving.

Jonah, on the other hand, had no regard for human life. In his opinion, it would be better if the whole ship sank and everyone drowned than to go to Nineveh and possibly save the Assyrians from disaster. By not caring what happened aboard the boat, Jonah was essentially taking responsibility for his own death, the deaths of all the men on board, and the deaths of thousands of Ninevites.

OUR WILLINGNESS TO BE CRITIQUED BY THE WORLD

The sailors cried out to their gods. They did everything within their power to save the lives off all their shipmates. So when they discovered Jonah asleep below deck, the captain was well within his rights to call the prophet to task. “Get up! Call…” These are the very first words that came to Jonah from YHWH. Now they are being repeated verbatim by the pagan ship captain.

The captain was absolutely right to criticize Jonah’s laziness and lack of concern. The captain was absolutely right to urge Jonah, the prophet of God, to call out to God. But I don’t think Jonah appreciated being called out like that. Why? Because he Still. Doesn’t. Pray. Jonah stubbornly refuses to lift a finger or a prayer to help anyone else.

When the world see Christians acting un-Christ-like, they have every right to call us out on it. Non-believers may not know as much about the Bible or our faith as we do, but most of them know that whole “Love God, and love your neighbor” thing. That’s kind of a big deal. If Christians are failing to fulfill the greatest commands in the whole Bible, then we should be criticized for it. If we are willingly “falling asleep” to the tragedies and hardships of our neighbors, we deserve to be called out. If we can’t be bothered to seek the good of people who are different from us, then the world has every right to ridicule us and point out our hypocrisy.

When we don’t denounce nationalism, white supremacy, anti-Semitism, racism, classism, sexism, and every other kind of discrimination, we deserve every bit of  finger pointing we get from the world. Maybe, just maybe, that will wake us up to action and love.

OUR LOVE FOR AND RELIANCE ON “THE OTHER”

The sailors didn’t really care which god caused this storm. They didn’t really care who worshiped whom or who was from where. The important thing to them was that they were all in the same boat. If everyone doesn’t work together, then they could all die. What a metaphor for life.

They sailors didn’t let their religion, as it were, keep them from banding together to save everyone. The same could not be said for Jonah. He used his religious and civil convictions as a justification for not helping others – both the Ninevites and the pagan sailors.

When we hear “Love your neighbor as yourself,” we often interpret that how Jonah and his fellow Israelites did. Your neighbors are those closest to you – physically, socially, relationally, and religiously. But Jesus completely reinterprets this command. In Luke 10 a man asks the question that’s on all of our minds, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus’ brilliant answer literally changed history. Jesus knew that in asking “Who is my neighbor?” the man really wants to know “Who isn’t my neighbor.” If we define the neighbor, then there will always be people who fall outside that definition.

So Jesus told a story about a man who was ambushed by robbers, stripped of his money and clothing, and left for dead on the side of the road. In other words, here was a man devoid of any identifying markers. You couldn’t tell how rich he was, where he came from, what ethnicity he was, what language he spoke, or anything else. The priest and the Levite passed by on the other side, refusing to help the man. They, like Jonah, used their religious obligations as an excuse for not helping. But the Samaritan came along, saw a man in need, and without a second thought stopped to help. The man he helped was Jewish. It makes me wonder, If the man had been conscious, would he have accepted help from the Samaritan?


We may be willing to help and even love people who are different from us – homeless or Muslim or LGBTQ or Democrat or undocumented immigrant, etc. But are we willing to accept love and help from those same people?

We can extend love, but can we receive it?

I think deep down Jonah resented the fact that he had to rely on the very people he would rather avoid. Jonah doesn’t care about these sailors. It’s not that he actively hates them like he does the Assyrians. He just has no obligation or commitment to them whatsoever. If one of them was injured on the side of the road, Jonah would probably pass by on the other side. But the sailors care about Jonah. The sailors want to save his life. The sailors would stop to help Jonah if he were the man in Jesus’ story.

It’s an attitude of supremacy to be willing to extend help to someone you consider “lesser” but to be unwilling to receive help from those same people.

WAKE UP!

Jonah had to be awakened to the plight of the ship and the crew. As long as he remained unaware of the problem he could plead ignorance. His lack of concern or action was somewhat understandable. But as soon as he was awake and aware of the situation, Jonah had an obligation to act.

Christians, many of us need to wake up. We need the world to shout us awake to the disaster befalling much of the world. We need to wake up to the rates of depression and suicide among LGBTQ teenagers. We need to wake up to the abject poverty, evil, and governmental corruption driving Central American families from their homes to seek asylum north of the border. We need to wake up to the tyrannical rule of dictators around the world. We need to wake up to the rise carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. We need to wake up to the opioid crisis plaguing the Midwest and the sheer number of orphans being left in its wake. We need to wake up to the dangers of religious nationalism. We need to wake up to the experience of People of Color in our country.

After all, we’re all in the same boat.

“How can you sleep at a time like this? Get up and pray to your god! Maybe he will pay attention to us and spare our lives.”

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This post is part of an ongoing series on the book of Jonah. Click the links below to view other posts.
Jonah: Bravely Ran Away!
Jonah: Nope
Jonah: World’s Worst Prophet

6 Reasons Christians Should Care About Climate Change

Recently the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its latest report on the state of global climate change. Things are not looking good to say the least. You can easily look up the report and read it for yourself. At the rate we’re going, we have about 12 years to come together as a global community and turn things around.

It’s almost time to hit the panic button.

Mike McHargue released an episode of his podcast “Ask Science Mike” this week discussing the report and what we can/should do about it. I highly recommend giving it a listen (begin at about the 5:38 mark). It’s upsetting to me that we could be experiencing the catastrophic effects of global warming within our lifetime. We’re not just talking about the distant future of our grandchildren’s grandchildren. We are talking about a couple of decades from now.

When I was younger I remember hearing people in the church shrug off the warnings of global warming. I would hear things like, “The climate has changed before. It’s a completely natural part of Earth’s cycles.” Or “who are we to think that humans could cause such a thing as this?” Or worse, “God said he would never destroy the Earth again, so there’s nothing we can do to destroy it.”

There are still climate change deniers, but I think it’s time we all got more serious about this. Caring for the environment should not be a partisan issue. Reducing our energy consumption and carbon footprint should not be viewed as a bad thing. Even if you don’t believe that human activity (eg. burning fossil fuels and stripping rainforests to make pasture land for livestock) is driving climate change, I still think there are plenty of reasons to start taking better care of our planet.

I’m no Captain Planet, but here are six key reasons I believe Christians should care about the environment.

1) We are created in the Image of God.

Our Scriptures begin with the story of creation (Genesis 1, 2). Genesis 1 is a beautiful song depicting God’s work in breathtaking poetic language. God creates light, then oceans and atmosphere, then dry land and vegetation, then birds and fish, then land animals. Last of all God created humans:

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27)

Men and women – ALL homo sapiens – are created in the Image of God. This is one of the foundational truths of the Bible. If we don’t have that as our starting point, then nothing else really matters. The Image of God is a loaded term. We could write entire volumes of books on what the term means and its implications. But suffice it to say that human beings are God’s representatives to the rest of creation.

Humans were endowed with certain cognitive, physical, and social capabilities that (as far as we know) are unprecedented in the known universe. Humans have survived not because we are the most well evolved species on the planet, but because we have a language, fine motor skills, and social cooperation. A lone human will not survive for long. But get 20 or 30 of us together and we can create our own society.

As God’s image bearers, we have some of the divine spirit in us, too. We have the ability to show love and compassion, forgiveness and mercy. We share in God’s creative work, too. We see the world not just as it is but as it could be. Humans can help tame the chaos. Humans can help bring order and flourishing for all the codependent ecosystems.

Since humans are created in God’s image and likeness, then our first inclination should be to do the things God would do. That includes, but is certainly not limited to, caring for the rest of non-human creation on this planet.

2) God placed humans in charge of tending and caring for the Earth.

Closely connected with the first point is this: we bear the divine image and are given a divine vocation.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis 1:28)

This is where a lot of people have gotten tripped up over the centuries. What does it meant to “subdue” and “rule over”? I believe many men have taken that to mean the Earth is ours to do with as we please. Some think this means that the Earth and everything in it was made for humanity to use, to exploit, to take advantage of for our own personal gains.

But this is kingly language. Humanity is “ruling over” the Earth is God’s vassal governors. Yes, there are parts of this world that I am glad to have brought under our control. But what do we do once we have brought about order and submission? I don’t believe the answer is to run roughshod over creation. We should instead do everything within our power to make creation come alive and flourish to the glory of God. After all, creation itself is supposed to reveal something of God to us – namely God’s divine nature and eternal power (Romans 1:20).

Would nonhuman creation call us benevolent rulers or maniacal tyrants?

3) Our actions impact more than just ourselves.

What comes to mind when you think of the word “sin”? The Bible is littered with lists of sins – those actions and attitudes that are contrary to God’s way of life for his people. But take a look at one of those lists – any list. Think about anything we would consider to be a sin.

Is there a sin that affects only you and no one/nothing else in any way?

Any sin you can think of has an impact greater than the one committing the sin. That’s why it’s such a big deal to God. God is community and love within Godself. God creates out of communal love for the purpose of communal love. That’s why God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18).

When the first humans sinned by eating the fruit from the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil” (Genesis 3), God plainly laid out the consequences to their action. They did not die immediately, but they were separated 1) from God, 2) from each other, and 3) from the rest of creation. Sin drove a wedge between all these relationships.

Hear this: our sin of greed has caused potentially irreparable harm to the rest of creation.

For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:19-21)

Our sin of greed has made matters exponentially worse since the industrial revolution. Our desire for more – more money, more power, more things, more comfort, more convenience – has had devastating effects on the rest of creation. I can only imagine that creation is crying out more than ever, is more frustrated than ever at being subject to bondage.

We must be willing to take responsibility for our own actions and begin living in such a way as to reduce the harmful impacts of our own greed and evil desires.

4) It’s more economical.

Ok, so maybe you’re not convinced by the science or the theology. But everyone should be able to get behind the economics of sustainability. And no, I’m not talking about going out and buying a Prius. In fact, the more economical thing to do is to keep your vehicles as long as possible, keep them well maintained, and drive more efficiently.

Come on. Who wouldn’t want to pay less for gas? Who wouldn’t want to see a smaller electricity or water bill? Who wouldn’t want to support local farmers and merchants rather than gigantic, unsustainable mega-corporations?

We live in a consumeristic society. The real challenge is to consume less and create/contribute more. This is called stewardship. There’s a whole case for stewardship to be made in Scripture. Basically, everything belongs to God. The blessings we have come from God and are meant to be used to bless others.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17)

Honor the Lord with your wealth,
    with the firstfruits of all your crops (Proverbs 3:9)

We have a say as consumers. We vote with our dollars. Companies pay attention to market trends. If we are spending more of our money on locally-sourced, sustainable, and/or fair trade products, then producers and manufacturers will take note. If we invest more into green companies who are working to develop more efficient forms of energy at lower costs, then we will all benefit in the long run.

Renewable energy and sustainable products just make more economic sense. We must be better stewards of the blessings God has given us.

5) It’s a justice thing.

This should be a really big wake-up call for Christians globally. According to all predictions that I’ve seen, those who are less well off are going to be the most impacted by climate change. Not everyone can afford to move. Not everyone can keep up with the predicted rise in food and energy costs. In extreme weather events, those with poorer housing and shelter are going to be the least able to survive. We must be preparing for a humanitarian crisis unlike anything we’ve ever seen. Climate change has the potential to produce more refugees globally than we could possibly support.

When economies collapse, it will be “the least of these” who suffer the most. When hurricanes gain unprecedented strength, it will be “the least of these” who are swallowed in the storm surge. When wild fires rage and crops fail and sea levels rise, it will be “the least of these” who will experience the greatest impact.

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’” (Matthew 25:41-45)

Instead of preparing to help the countless numbers of refugees men and women God’s Image Bearers who will be negatively affected by climate change, we are severely cutting down on the number of refugees we will allow into this country. We are building a wall along our souther border with Mexico to prevent people from entering the US. We are scaling back the amount of global aide and support given to developing nations. We have pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement. We have alienated our closest allies and buddied up with tyrannical dictators. We have beefed up our military spending while making cuts to social security and healthcare.

Remember – we will be judged by how we treated “the least of these.”

6) The Kingdom of God promotes flourishing of all people and all creation.

This isn’t heaven yet. Not by a long shot. But that shouldn’t stop us from trying to make this world a little more like heaven.

One of the key differentiators between the Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdoms of the World is abundance versus scarcity. God’s kingdom is one of abundance. In God’s kingdom everyone has enough, everyone has clothes, food, shelter. Everyone’s needs are taken care of. Everyone is given the chance to flourish and thrive and reach their fullest potential.

The Kingdoms of this World live on a scarcity mindset. The fear is that there is not enough for everyone. There won’t be enough food or water or luxuries, so we have to forcibly take and/or protect what’s ours.

This will only get worse with climate change. Resources will become more scarce. Water sources will dry up. Fossil fuel reserves will become depleted. Useable farmland could all but vanish. Extinctions could occur on widespread scales along the entire food chain. Scarcity will be the new norm.

Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). Scarcity defines the kingdoms, empires, and nations of this world. Abundance defines the kingdom of heaven.

Think about everything Jesus did in order to prove this very point. He healed the sick, blind, lame, and deaf. He preached to the poor and outcasts. He caused a miraculous catch of fish – so much that it nearly sank the boats. He took a few loaves of bread and some fish and multiplied them into enough food to feed thousands.

Jesus came to preach a kingdom of abundance, not so that we could greedily hoard it all, but so that we could all share what we have and provide for each other out of that abundance.

This is exactly what the early Christians did:

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. (Acts 4:32-35)

In the coming decades it will be increasingly important that God’s people live out of a place of abundance – sharing what we have, giving to those in need, not taking more than we need. The fear of scarcity has no place in the kingdom of heaven. But if we want to prevent widespread scarcity of resources (necessities, not just luxuries), then we need to take this as seriously as the early church did. We must redefine “enough.” We must reprioritize our wants and our needs. We must celebrate and become good stewards of the blessings we have from God in Christ. And we must be willing to share with those in need.

I’m not perfect at any of this. In fact, I’ve gotten lazier about these things in the last few years. But it’s up to each one of us to make little changes that will make a big impact.

MARANATHA

That’s an ancient word/phrase meaning “Lord, come quickly.” It could mean we want Christ to return and for the kingdom of heaven to be fully realized as promised at the end of Revelation. Or it could mean that we need God to act in a big way, to show up and put everything to right.

As we proceed into a potentially ominous future, I believe this prayer is critical for God’s people. It reminds us who is ultimately in charge. It reminds us that this isn’t heaven yet. It reminds us of the hope we have in Christ Jesus that one day all will be made new.

Maranatha.

God hates….?

I’m sure most of you have heard of the Westoboro Baptist Church, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last decade or so. In which case, stop it! There are much more comfortable places to live.

This small group of mostly relatives “worships” in Topeka, Kansas, and protests, well, just about everywhere else. There is a documentary I watched recently, Fall From Grace, which follows and interviews members of this church. The travel around the country protesting and picketing at different events (including military funerals) and places (including synagogues and other churches). One of their most common three-word-signs is “God Hates Fags.” And I hate using that word. It pains me to type it.

That’s a strong accusation. They blame homosexuality for most of the catastrophes and hardships that befall the US, such as Katrina and 9/11.

The most unfortunate thing is that these people are not the only so-called Christians who have bought into the lie that God hates homosexuals. I have heard the same rhetoric from televangelists, evangelical pastors, even some of my own brothers in Christ.

But does God really hate homosexuals? In fact, does God hate anybody?

Not according to the Bible.

I did a search for any passage in which God specifically says that He hates something/someone. I could only find the phrase “I hate” spoken by God in the prophets. And who are the prophets mostly railing against? The corrupt religious leaders and complacent followers.

Most of the things God hates include festivals, worship assemblies, and sacrifices which are carried out by people who mistreat, oppress, and exploit their fellow man. One thing we can be sure of is that God hates the worship of those who practice injustice.

The only other thing I could find that God specifically says that he hates is…divorce. God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). He hates it when men mistreat their wives. They are unpleased by their wives, so they dump them on the side of the road without a penny to their name and no way of making a living. God hates divorce.

He doesn’t hate people who are divorced. He simply hates to see His covenant taken lightly and then broken.

If the Westboro Baptist Church wanted to picket and protest divorce court, I think they would have a more biblical basis for their actions. But only if they preached and worshiped while practicing justice and righteousness, which I don’t see them doing any time soon.

God loves covenental relationships. Marriage is the first covenant established between God and man. And God hates to see his covenants tossed aside as if they didn’t matter.