Posts Tagged ‘God’s Love’

Comey, James B., “Reinhold Niebuhr and Jerry Falwell: the Christian in politics” (1982). Undergraduate Honors Theses. Paper 1116.

December 21, 2017

I’ve been reading and discussing Comey’s thesis for awhile, mostly with the personal goal of understanding his mind a bit better and seeing how a theologian like Reinhold Niebuhr might have played a pivotal role in our nation’s history.  I’m posting a link to the full thesis here, and would be happy to discuss it further.

Recommended Citation

Comey, James B., “Reinhold Niebuhr and Jerry Falwell: the Christian in politics” (1982). Undergraduate Honors Theses. Paper 1116.

The Sign of Jonah: lessons from my father (pt. 3)

March 8, 2015

The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time, saying, “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.”  Jonah 3:1

Even those who know almost nothing of the Bible will generally follow “Jonah” with “and the Whale.”  In fact, however, the “whale” is something of an intrusion.  The story works just fine if you start with Chapter 3, with only a little editing.  It doesn’t matter whether it was a “whale” or a “big fish” or even “the belly of Sheol.”  In fact, the central message of the Book of Jonah doesn’t require the first two chapters at all.  That is why I say that while in one sense “the whale” is inseparable from Jonah, in another sense it is quite unessential.  What follows after that story is what changes an apparent fairy tale into what my father now says is the most important book in the Old Testament.

Jonah now travels to Nineveh.  “That great city” is described as being so huge that it would take three days to walk across it.  Jonah doesn’t bother trying to reach the heart of the city, much less the entire city.  He walks about a day in, enough to fulfill the letter of the command, and proclaims to the city, “Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!”  Strangely, he is not arrested as an enemy national come to undermine the morale of the city, nor is he mocked as a lunatic. Instead, his somewhat incomplete effort is wildly successful.  Interestingly, the text in the NRSV says “the people of Nineveh believed God.” (Jonah 3;5).  The Hebrew name for their deity is transliterated YHWH, and usually translated into English as “LORD,” all caps.  “Elohim,” usually translated “God” or “gods”, can refer either to the Israelite deity who spoke to Moses, or to any god.  It is a less definite title as compared to the true name of God, YHWH, that name so holy Jews do not even speak it aloud.  The implication is that the Ninevites hear Jonah not as the prophet of the god of Israel only, but as a prophet of God, The God, whose power and justice rule the whole world.  And they react with sincere and even extravagant repentance.  The people first, and then even the king put on sackcloth and ashes, the traditional signs of mourning, they fast, and they even put sackcloth on the animals to show that every living thing in the city is submitting to the will of God; and more importantly, the king proclaims that all are to give up their evil and violent ways, so that this ritual act of repentance is accompanied by genuine reformation.  Jonah is one of the most successful prophets in the entire Bible!  “But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry.”  (Jonah 4:1)

Rarely does the Bible record such a success as Jonah’s, and even more rarely does it report a prophet so displeased with his success.  Jonah had wanted Nineveh’s destruction all along.  He never wanted it to repent; he wanted to be rejected so that the LORD’s wrath would fall on the city as he had predicted.  Instead, the city repents, and God relents.  And Jonah prays bitterly, “That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.  And now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”  (Jonah 4:2-3)  And Jonah stomps out of the city, and makes camp outside it to wait and see what the LORD will finally do, and whether he will in fact spare the city or not, still hoping for Nineveh’s destruction.

Instead, “The LORD God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush.  But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. ”  (Jonah 4:6-7)  It really doesn’t seem to take much to please or displease some people!  God sends a shade bush to Jonah and he is delighted again.  The next day the bush dies, and God makes sure it is a particularly hot day just so Jonah gets the point.  Soon Jonah is angry and miserable again, praying for death.  And God responds to Jonah, saying:

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?  (Jonah 4:11)

That is where the book ends.  We have no word whether Jonah had a reply at all.  The book ends with a question for Jonah, and for us:  shouldn’t God be merciful even to the rotten, who are so ignorant they don’t know right from wrong?  Shouldn’t God even be merciful to our enemies?

This is why my father says Jonah is the most important book in the Old Testament.  There are individual psalms and passages that speak of the love of God for all people, but Jonah is the book that is dedicated to the message that God loves everyone.  God even loves Assyrians.  God even loves their animals!  When he preaches his sermon, he intends to end it by saying, “God loves you!  And you!  And you!  And even me!”  And then, if possible, he’d like to end with the congregation singing this:   (minus whatever commercial YouTube shows you before the clip, of course!).