The Book of the Twelve for Lent 2016
Disconnect – Jonah (4)
A perennial problem reflected in Jonah is a disconnect that often occurs between our beliefs and our way of life. It’s particularly acute in the west where we have allowed faith to be defined as and confined to mental assent to certain propositions or ideas. Wherever this idea came from, it did not come from the Bible or the Jewish milieu out of which the Bible arose.
Yet this disconnect exists even in Biblical times. We see it in Jonah. He has a perfectly fine theology. He just doesn’t/can’t live it out at this point. This reader wonders if that’s not one of the levels of meaning in the story.
Jonah had his theology of creation in good order. He knew his God was the creator, lord, and ruler of all and everyone and everything were accountable to him. But he could not allow that as creator, lord, and ruler of all God could do what he wished when he wished to and for his creatures. He wanted a deity who acted like Israel’s national deity destroying all its enemies (like the hated Assyrians) and did all that would favor and lift up Israel. The city-wide repentance of Nineveh did NOT meet his criteria at all!
Jonah wanted a smaller God than his faith offered (to fit his undersized heart we looked at in an earlier post) and he acted like it. When he shows more concern for the shade plant that died than a whole city-full of people, the disconnect between his Jewish faith and his behavior is evident. He could have passed a theology quiz, to be sure. But he can’t pass the “smell test” of this disconnect.
A nationalistic faith is one of the things that has hamstrung Christianity in America as much as anything. That the world perceives Christianity as America’s religion is perfectly accurate. That’s how we’ve lived it. That’s been our national disconnect with the faith we profess. In World War II American soldiers went to battle assured that God was on their side at the same time soldiers from another “Christian” nation, Germany, went with “Gott mit us” (God is with us) stenciled on their helmets. Both nations exhibited a terrible, tragic, costly, and indefensible theological error that we are still trying to recover from.
During that war Dietrich Bonhoeffer came to realize that he was going to have to pray for the defeat of his beloved Germany if Christianity and civilization were to survive. Can you imagine praying for America’s defeat or downfall for God’s sake?
Christians live (or should live) by a theology of the cross wherein weakness and even defeat are the way to victory. It’s not surprising we have a hard time with us. It’s completely counterintuitive and against everything we as Americans are to taught to believe and do. Nor is it surprising that when it comes to down to it we often draw a line beyond which we will not go, even for Jesus’ sake.
Clarence Jordan, founder of the interracial Koinonia Farms in the 1940’s in south Georgia, once asked his brother, Robert (who became a state senator and a justice on the state Supreme Court), to be Koinonia’s attorney. “I can’t do that. You know my aspirations. I might lose my job, my house, everything I’ve got.” Clarence said, “We might lose everything, too.” “It’s different for you,” Robert responded. “Why? You and I joined the church the same Sunday as boys. The preacher asked, ‘Do you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior?’ What did you say?” Robert replied, “I follow Jesus – up to a point.” Clarence: “Could that point by any chance be the cross?” “I follow him to the cross, but not on the cross. I’m not getting myself crucified.” “Then I don’t believe you are a disciple. You’re an admirer of Jesus. You ought to go back to that church you belong to, and tell them you’re an admirer, not a disciple.” Robert: “Well now, if everyone like me did that, we wouldn’t have a church would we?” To which Clarence applied the coup de grace: “The question is, Do you have a church?” Later, Robert saw the light, became a disciple himself, and boasted that his brother was “the greatest Christian I have ever known.”
What disconnect do you need to deal with this Lent?