Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Jonah Juxtaposition Why people gravitate to God's global purposes and why they run away.

     By Shane Bennett   
Who wouldn't want to have a book in the Bible named after themselves? My guess is that Jonah wouldn't. As far as I can tell, though, he's the only one to get four eponymous chapters dedicated solely to himself. And it couldn't be the recounting of noble exploits or sharing of time-honored, God-revealed truth. Not even an angelic visitation. No, it had to be a giant, unmitigated foul-up. It may be Jonah's one and only foul-up, but it's preserved so we can read it, raise our eyebrows, cluck our tongues, and judge poor Jonah.

Or maybe he's not so much "poor Jonah." He clearly disobeyed. And in the process, he may provide mission mobilizers with a moral on a silver plate: "Obey God. Become a missionary. Don't be a dope like Jonah." Powerful stuff if wielded well, but not as interesting to me as the "why?" behind the "what?"

Why did Jonah, on hearing God's call to Nineveh, head to Tarshish? Sometimes we go for a secondary moral: "Jonah was afraid of the Ninevites, so he ran away. Don't be a baby like Jonah. Be brave. Follow God to where there aren't even any Starbucks!"

But Jonah tips his hand at the end of his short bio and shows us it wasn't fear that made him run. It was his conviction regarding the character of God: "Isn't this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live." Essentially, "If I preach, they might repent. If they repent, you'll relent. Ergo, no Ninevite carnage."    
Apparently Jonah was compelled by his logical conclusion that dead enemies are less likely to visit their nefarious plans on your beloved homeland. He prioritized his perceived national security over God's glory and Ninevite salvation. He didn't go because he didn't want them at the party.

What about us? What causes us and our people to run away from or toward obedience to God's purpose?

In the course of my job, I ask tons of people to jump into God's global purposes. Many of them don't say yes. And since I can't stomach the possibility that it might be me or the way I ask, I have to wonder why. I frequently ask students the following question in Perspectives classes: "What are some of the reasons people, perhaps including you at some point, run from involvement in God's purposes for the world?"   
A bright class will generate a long list. Long enough sometimes that we have to stop before we all get convinced to bail out! Here are some of the top reasons.

Reasons to Run away from God's Global Purposes
1.    I can't learn a language.
2.    I don't measure up.
3.    I'm really happy here and don't want to leave what's comfortable.
4.    I'm engaged in ministry locally.
5.    I can't (won't?) raise support.
6.    I don't understand what it looks like. No role models.
7.    I don't really care.
8.    I don't like foreign stuff.
9.    Life is so full and crazy, it's all I can do just to get by.
10. I just don't see the need.
11. I didn't know God was into that stuff.
12. It feels so imperialistic, intolerant, and non-pluralistic.
Reasons to Run toward God's Global Purposes
1.    I want to obey what the Bible says.
2.    I feel compassion for people in need.
3.    I sense an opportunity for adventure.
4.    I honestly think I can help.
5.    I want to join in what God's doing.
6.    I want to live a life of purpose.
7.    I believe God is worthy to be followed by all peoples.
For people like us, these lists do a couple of things. One, they give us language to articulate our judgmental, Pharisaical attitudes. I don't recommend using them that way. (Although I should probably add, "Do as I say. Not as I do!") But they also give us a window of understanding into the people we hope to mobilize for God's global purposes. And maybe if we're smart and work together, we can mitigate some of the first list and maximize the second one.

That said, I'd like your help. Can you take one minute right now and do something for me? Pick an item from each list and suggest a way to decrease its impact (first list) or increase its effect (second list). Because I'd really like this exercise to change things, pick items you feel have the best combination of "easy to address" and "high potential to make a difference."

This article is a full 25 percent shorter than normal! Whoop! Please use the extra time that just landed in your lap to share you smarts with the tribe. I'll follow up next month.

Editor's Note: For some more on Jonah, listen to a message from Shane, In the Steps of Jonah or Jesus?

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