We’re reaching the end of the first semester at Great Commission Bible Institute, and I can hardly believe it. In some ways, it seems like only a few weeks ago we finished the Bible Experience (reading through the whole Book in 8 days!); we just got used to the routine, and now I’m packing to go home! Home… Alaska’s almost a whole world away. What a whirlwind the past 6 months have been. What a set of adventures!
In class, we’ve been studying the separated kingdoms of Judah and Israel, and all the minor prophets who called them to repentance (of course, they didn’t and they were each carted off into exile).
Among the long list of Minor Prophets we’ve covered is Jonah. We all know the story: God speaks, Jonah balks, stormy ocean, big fish, repentance, off to Nineveh. And happily ever after, right? Not so much. Sure, Jonah goes to Nineveh and preaches the message God gave him (“unless you repent, you’re all gonna die” Jonah 3:4), but when the people of Nineveh actually repent, Jonah throws a major hissy fit.
So God decides He’ll show Jonah a piece of His character that Jonah’s obviously overlooking, using a plant and a worm. Nineveh is parked right in the middle of Iraq, so as you can imagine, it gets a bit toasty. God provides some shade for Jonah (think plant), and when he later removes it (that’s the worm’s part), Jonah wins himself an Academy Award for playing the part of a two-year-old.
“Death is better to me than life… I have a good reason to be angry, even to death.” Jonah 4:8-9.
But God’s response to his temper tantrum goes much deeper than, “Get a grip, Jo”. It reveals a part of His character. He says,
“You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work and which you did not cause to grow which came up overnight and perished overnight. Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?” Jonah 4:10-11.
I wonder if God’s response took Jonah off guard, but the book ends with God’s question, so we have no real way of knowing for certain. Perhaps Jonah thought his purpose in going to Nineveh was to preach coming doom and then just sit back and watch God smite yet another Gentile city. After all, they weren’t His chosen people, so why do they matter? They should have seen it coming.
The New Living Translation phrases “persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand” as “people living in spiritual darkness”. After spending two months in India, the concept of “living in spiritual darkness” has a tangible flavor to me. When I read this verse, I see the faces of people I love dearly and my heart breaks. Certainly God sent Jonah to Nineveh so he could preach repentance to the city, but I also think he wanted to transform Jonah in the process. He wanted Jonah to see that God desperately loves those Gentiles, those heathens, those Ninevites, and He’ll do whatever it takes to save them. To save us!
Like I said earlier, this principle really resonates within me, and I wanted to find a way to express the idea of God’s love for those who do not know Him in a modern way. Jonah Collage Who are our Ninevites? What does “spiritual darkness” look like in the 21st century? It looks like the teenage girl immersing herself into a world of Wicca and the Occult. It looks like the Haitian man practicing voodoo with his dolls. It looks like Hindus worshipping stone deities. It looks like saffron-robed monks meditating on Buddha’s teachings. It looks like a Muslim woman, faithfully praying five times a day. It looks like the middle-aged American, trying to give his family the American dream, living his own life. “Not knowing the difference between [his] right and left hand”. Not seeing the difference between death and life. Blind to his own blindness.
This project is a reminder that we too were once Ninevites. Blind and deceived in our various ways. Not knowing anything but death and destruction. But Jesus Christ offered a way to repentance and restoration for us, and by His grace we are saved! And it is a call for those of us who have received sight to pray for those who are “living in spiritual darkness”. To “have compassion on [them]”, to pray for that their eyes would be opened, that they would repent and be given new life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
“A people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has call you out of darkness in to His marvelous light…” 1 Peter 2:9