Saturday, March 08, 2008

Jonah and Human Shields

In adult Sunday School last week, the friend teaching the class mentioned in reference to Jonah that there is an equivalence to how we look at our enemies, and that if God is willing to receive them, we should not draw back from praying that the Lord bless them. Someone present mentioned the adopt-a-terrorist program, in which Christians pray for a terrorist. Somewhat tangentially, the teacher wondered out loud whether the US would have been better served spending the Iraq war money on going in and building schools and hospitals. This is exactly the sort of thing I don't let pass, and demurred briefly, noting that such strategy had been tried by the US without success.

My initial objection was on those practical grounds, and if pressed I would likely have made the argument that whatever Christian principle was involved in being generous to enemies, something seemed to go awry when governments tried it.

Upon reflection, I have a better reason. Jonah did not go to Nineveh and say "Here, this is all my money. I want to do good works among you because God loves you." Jonah told them to repent. He was quite harsh, actually, which was why he was afraid to go in the first place. Jonah might have been annoyed if God had told him to go to Nineveh and build schools, but he wouldn't have been afraid. He knew that after hearing his message, they might kill him.

They did repent, and God blessed them. This gives a whole different spin as to what we mean when we ask God to "bless" our enemies. We are told to pray for them, but I don't recall much specificity about what, exactly, we should pray for them. There seems some rather large leaps from the idea of praying for enemies, asking for blessing for them, and praying that their lives be okay, as if the three were fairly obviously equivalent. I don't think they're equivalent.

When we have people we love going wrong and we pray for them, we don't tend to just pray that they get good jobs and have good health (though I think those are worthy items to pray for), we pray that they return to God. That they see the light. That they recognise the error of their ways and turn around. That is a prayer for people that we love - for siblings or old friends or children who are moving away from God in some way.

When the Christian human shields went to Iraq, hoping to shame or stop the US from going to war, I think they left out that part of telling the Iraqi people (or the government) to repent. I might have admired that a bit more.

No false dichotomies here. I am not advocating a freedom of hatred or permission to rationalise any attitude or action we might think fit for our enemies. The command to pray for them remains: bless those who curse you. I simply note that there is an oversimplified - and ultimately unloving - use of this concept in current Christian discussion.


terri said...

I wonder though, would we be like Jonah...mad at God for being merciful to people who were enemies of our nation?

Also, the New Covenant changes things up from a chosen nation to chosen individuals from all nations. It's hard to translate the same concepts of "enemies" from the Old Testament into the broader New Testament concept of God's Kingdom.

Dubbahdee said...

Yes AVI, you nailed it. I have been thinking about that interchange since it occurred last week. Your explanation here hits the mark squarely.
It raises the question, "what is a blessing?" We tend to define it as by necessity involving pleasure, ease and an external state of peacefulness - absence of conflict and the presence of happiness. You suggest that it should be redefined as the GOOD. Achieving the GOOD may involve suffering. In fact, a reading of scripture seems to indicate that it MUST. This suffering may be spiritual, mental or physical or any combination. Jonah confronted the Assyrians with their sin. They repented - suffering anguish in recognition of their sin, and taking on suffering to turn from their suffering they inflicted upon others. The result was not pleasant, but it was GOOD.
To preach repentance to the Iraq...that's a thought that bears consideration. At the same time, calling the US, Russia, Iran, and the EU, and the members of OPEC to would start to bear some resemblence to certain portions of the book of Isaiah wouldn't it. Woe to Edom. Woe to Egypt. Whoa to Aram. etc.

Terri - Note that Jonah decided long before the Assyrians repented that he did not want it to happen. And note that God's mercy to Assyria was quite severe. I bet it cost them dearly in terms of international power and prestige.

Also, I don't think that your "chosen individuals" thing holds water. Can you elaborate on your reasoning? Do you really think that because Jesus died and rose again that nations are no longer held responsible for their coporate actions?

terri said...

dubbahdee...I think nations can be accountable in the common moral sense, but the Kingdom of God in the New Testament is a much more abstract concept than it was in Israel's past. Before Jesus, the actual nation of Israel was the Kingdom of God in a very real, present way. Foreigners and Gentiles were to be avoided, removed from the land, not bound in marriage with Israelites....etc. A nation opposing Israel was seen as a nation opposing God and His chosen people.

As far as my reasoning, I'm thinking of Jesus statement that "the kingdom of God is within you", spoken not to a nation, but to his followers.

As far as what it cost the Assyrians...who knows? It seemed shortlived what with their occupation and conquering of Northern Israel later on.