Today in Sunday school my class and I wrapped up a set of lessons based on the book of Jonah. Certainly everyone knows the story of Jonah, particularly the part during which he was swallowed up by the big fish, but my charges were unaware of the REST of the story involving this Old Testament prophet. The book of Jonah is not typically preached from in most churches, I boldly say, but the lessons that can be taken from the book and applied to society today are INNUMERABLE.
There is so much in this wonderful short book. We see the consequences of anger, disobedience, and even racism. We see grace and mercy and an illustration of God’s compassion both on Jonah and on Nineveh. It is not a book to be ignored.
Since I am dealing with children, I always try to keep in mind that, although it is of extreme importance that they understand the background of each set of Scriptures we use in Sunday school, that they also are able to find some relevance within those Scriptures to their every day life. Certain approaches don’t work well with children. For each lesson, I give them a very brief background of the author of the Scriptures, for instance, and perhaps the setting and purpose of the book from which the Scriptures have come. Why brief? Because honestly, the kids get bored by too much detail. The bulk of class time is spent on dissecting the Scriptures themselves and what the kids can take away from the Scriptures.
Of course to those of us on the outside of the Bible, Jonah comes off as a cold-blooded guy. His unfounded hatred of the 120,000 people of Nineveh was so strong that he preferred to die than to go and deliver the message of God’s impending wrath and possibly afford the people the chance to repent from their sins and be saved. Jonah was selfish, and racism is a selfish attitude. It is racism that makes a person believe that they are superior to another person or group of people. The only Old Testament prophet charged with delivering a message to Gentiles, Jonah did not feel that the people of Nineveh, which was indeed a wicked city, deserved grace and mercy. Yet, he completely forgot that technically, NONE of us do.
Grace is when we are given a free gift that we do not deserve. In terms of Biblical principles, God gracefully gives us salvation. Mercy is when God withholds punishments that we do deserve. In order to further explain those concepts to the kids, I asked them about occasions in which their parents rewarded them with something they did not deserve, and if their parents had ever withhold consequences for bad behavior. I wanted them to think of how good that felt, and to be able to appreciate God’s immeasurable love for us that is manifest in the concepts of grace and mercy.
Jonah is also an example of anger handled incorrectly. The children were initially under the impression that anger itself is a sin. That was until we turned to Ephesians 4:26, and found out the anger on its own is not a sin, but the way we express anger has the potential to be sinful. Jonah’s anger toward the people of Nineveh led him to disobedience. I find it baffling that at no point in time did Jonah consider that among the 120,000 Ninevites there might be some decent people within the midst… Another calamity of racist thinking. This is why I did not support the proposed Muslim ban. Call it what you want, that’s what it was. We cannot lump all Muslims into one group. As a matter of fact, who do people think are the ones reported suspicious, potential terrorist actions to the police or Homeland Security?
Other Muslims. It was other Muslims who had reported the loser who bombed the concert.
To further drive the point home of how God’s compassion is not reserved for one group of people, we talked about the people who were involved with the terrorist attack at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, UK (it’s messed up that we have to discuss things like that, but we do. They are aware). I asked them if they thought those individuals deserved God’s compassion. They honestly said no. That led to another discussion about how we should have compassion for them, because they know not what they do and know not where they may go. I’ve seen and heard people talk about hell as if it’s going to be this fantastic mishmash of illicit sex, drugs, alcohol, ungodly music–all of the things that people today think are FUN. But those of us who read our Word know that hell is not going to be fun at all, and it should disturb us to think of any human being, created lovingly by God, might end up in eternal darkness and torment.
Another of Jonah’s problems appears to be that he may have misunderstood the concept of sin. Yes, the sins of Nineveh were great, but that doesn’t take away the fact that he was sinful as well. As Christians, we cannot place ourselves on a pedestal. We can’t help people if we are looking down upon them. When I asked the kids if they thought there was any one sin that was greater than the other, I got two good answers. My son felt that killing another person was the greatest sin one can commit. Another very astute young lady said that denying Jesus after you’ve already accepted Him (she gave the example of being faced with death unless you denied Christ) was the worst sin.
Luckily for us God doesn’t operate that way. Sin is sin. Right is right and wrong is wrong. I doubt God has a chart that shows escalating sins and their corresponding punishments. That is why none of us have the right to act holier-than-thou. We have done things that are contrary to God’s will too. At some point in time, someone decided we needed to hear the Gospel. We heard it and received it. Now, of course, everyone is NOT going to receive the Gospel. Luckily for us, we don’t have to worry about that part. We just have to make sure there is enough compassion within us to be willing to talk to people, even those who we have decided don’t deserve grace and mercy, about the love of Jesus Christ. If the only people we talk to about Jesus are other Christians, we are sorely missing our purpose and being disobedient to the Great Commission.
Racism/prejudice, disobedience, anger… I couldn’t think of a more timely set of lessons.
Be blessed and have a wonderful rest of your day. I thank God for everyone who reads any part of my blog, even if you don’t respond.