It is never a good idea to ignore God’s commands. It is a lesson we have all learned from the story of Jonah.
But there is another lesson that the story of Jonah teaches us, one that applies all too well to the political cyclone of 2018. Tim Keller, speaking about his new book, The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God's Mercy, explains,
“What Jonah did was he let his politics direct his faith rather than his faith direct his politics. He was told to go to Syria and preach to Ninevah. He knew that the Ninevites were a political threat to his country, so he didn’t want to go.”
“He was, at that point, really saying, it’s more important to me that my enemies do not get the mercy of God because there are my political enemies.”
“That, to a great degree is what is happening in this country. We’re letting politics direct our faith. So Christians are being, I hate to say it, pushed more into a ‘red’ Christianity or ‘blue’ Christianity even though the Christian position doesn’t really align with either party perfectly.”
“It’s almost as if the parties are becoming religions and I’m afraid they’re co-opting Christians who really need to be above all that.”
Christians involved in government have the best intentions at heart. They want to be a voice for God’s will in our country. But too often we assign a political party as being most associated with God’s plan. In reality both sides fall up short, yet we’re convinced that the opposition is not only wrong, but despicable.
“One of the big themes is that we don’t understand God. God does things and He doesn’t explain them to us. You can see why Jonah would say,
‘The Assyrians are violent people and they’re a threat to my country. Why in the world do you want to have mercy on them?’
“God doesn’t tell us his plans. He doesn’t say, well I’ve got this world plan, here it is. Jonah actually lets his politics overshadow his understanding that all people need the mercy of God. Even though he does go and he does what God asks, God says ‘You went to them but you didn’t love them. You warned them but you didn’t do it out of love.'”
“Jonah hated them and that’s not good enough to God. It’s not good enough for you to go and tell them the truth if you don’t love them while you’re doing it, and boy if that isn’t a message for us right now, I don’t know what is.”
Even on issues as important as abortion, we cannot see the opposing side as vile, soulless sinners. We are called to show them what God has shown us. To reach them with love. For if they never have God revealed to them, how can God change their hearts?
“It’s one thing to oppose other people and to say they’re wrong, it’s another thing to do it without love. Even people that you think are really, really, really wrong and even bad people, you need to warn them in love.”
“That is of one of the themes of the book of the Book of Jonah and of my book. Every place where John is brought into close connection with the pagans that he so despises, the pagan people look more admirable than he does.”
“I think it’s the author’s way of trying to say that everyone is in the image of God. We’re all sinners but we all actually have many good things in us because of the image of God, and we should not divide the world into the good people and the evil people. We just shouldn’t do it.”
The word “tricky” doesn’t even begin to describe our current political atmosphere. But the next time someone is moving away from, or even hostile to the gospel in their political leanings, think of them as a Ninevite. We must show God’s love, and let Him do His miraculous work. Jonah was angry that God did not destroy Nineva, and we can learn from that.
Timothy Keller is the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. Today, Redeemer has more than five thousand regular attendees at five services, a host of daughter churches, and is planting churches in large cities throughout the world. He is the author ofCounterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters, and the New York Times bestseller The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism.