In the book of Jonah, God is upset by the ‘wickedness’ of the people of Nineveh. He sends Jonah to decry their wrongdoing and tell them to turn from their evil ways.
But Jonah doesn’t want to go, because come on, he hates Nineveh.
The Bible doesn’t actually say what the Ninevites were doing that was so wicked in God’s sight, or why Jonah personally despised them. And that’s helpful to us as readers.
We can imagine any number of wicked things the Ninevites were doing, or just think of things we like to judge and hate people for in our time – it’s easy to relate to Jonah.
Maybe Ninevites were violent, maybe they ripped people off, maybe they abused minorities or women…
I sometimes wonder if somebody from Nineveh had hurt Jonah personally, or killed a member of his family. It’s easy to hate the place that the person you hate is from.
Anyway, we don’t know what the specific sins were, but we’re told Nineveh was wicked, and Jonah couldn’t stand those people.
And so it’s no surprise that he’s furious when God decides to forgive the Ninevites for their wrongdoing. Jonah believes Nineveh should be wiped off the face of the earth, not let off the hook.
We all know a little about this kind of thing. There are people who have done things so bad that the thought of them being forgiven or getting a fresh start is painful to even consider.
Jonah asks, as we do, “Is everything is supposed to be okay now? We’re supposed to forget the harm these people caused? After everything they did, we just let it go, like it doesn’t matter?”
God’s answer to Jonah, and to us, is, “No. Hurt and suffering always matter. Evil choices and actions, and the harm they cause, are always important. You don’t forget when you forgive.”
Jonah’s role in the Bible was to tell people how much their wickedness mattered to God. He was sent to tell people to stop the terrible things they were doing, because evil cannot be allowed to continue.
People who enjoy hurting others, or who are simply caught in patterns of behavior that cause a lot of harm, don’t often take heed when somebody tells them they need to make a change. But sometimes the message really gets through.
In Jonah’s story, the Ninevites listened, and they stopped doing whatever wicked things they had been doing.
When God forgives them, he makes one thing very clear. God hates the evil that people do, but God doesn’t hate people. God wants us to stop doing the terrible things we do, so that we can live well with one another.
In order for this to happen, we have to remember the seriousness of the sins we commit against one another. We have to remember the harm and the hurt, not so that we can demonize people who do wrong, but so that we always understand how important it is to do right. We need that clarity if we expect anything to really change.
Jonah hated the thought that evildoers would get another chance to live well. But in the end, that’s the only way to create beloved community with imperfect people.
Peace be with you!
The Table is a Christian Church in Davenport, Iowa, pursuing transformation:
from greed toward generosity
from violence toward peacemaking
from isolation toward neighborliness
from fear toward faith
Worship Sundays 5pm, 102 E. 2nd St. Davenport
Holy Thursday: Dinner Church! Meal, prayer, dialogue. 6PM