In my first year of college, I took a great class called Western Civilization. At the end of the first semester we concluded with the history of the Roman Empire and the influence of Christianity on western society. In case the propaganda of our current western society has blinded you, allow me to remind you that western society is founded on Christianity. By Christianity I don’t mean prayer in schools and all the political hot buttons, but the concepts of love and freedom, which find their root in Christianity. During one of the lecture times, my professor spoke of the incredible influence that Christianity had on western society. She discussed the undeniable rise of Christianity, but she also referenced the Old Testament. She said something like this, “I find it ironic that the God of the Old Testament is a God of judgment, wrath and anger just like the society of that time, and the God of the New Testament is a God of love, peace, and freedom, just like the society of the A.D. time period.” My professor was suggesting that people throughout the history of western society have created a god that matched the attitude of society. She has a point about society, but not the God of the Bible.
As I look deeper into this question of love and justice alongside my Bible, I find a God that relates to humanity and has compassion on the sinner, but I also see a God that punishes the wicked. Most people assume that the God of compassion and love is Jesus represented in the New Testament, and the God of justice is Yahweh, found in the Old Testament. This assumption is narrow and fails to read the Old and New Testaments with full scope and careful understanding.
An example is the Whale Tale known as Jonah. It is a fascinating story that we love to tell our children. In the past when I’ve told the story to my children it goes like this, “God told Jonah to tell people to be good, but Jonah disobeyed God and ran away. God caught him and had a whale swallow him so that he would obey. Now, we should always do what God says, shouldn’t we?”
We find that the story of Jonah is a great little metaphor for reminding our children to be good so that God won’t make bad things happen to them. Our little metaphor is nothing more than a hinge that swings on the pin of justice. Much of religious activity swings upon this very hinge. We say things like, “Go to church or the devil will get you!” or “Give your money and God will bless you!” Jonah, however, is an Old Testament account that flips the lid on such a concept of justice.
In the account of Jonah we find that justice is a part of the story, but the main point of the story has very little to do with the whale or justice. In fact it has to do with the opposite of justice, love! The story of Jonah is approximately 48 verses long, two of those verses reference the whale, and none discuss justice. What we find is that the story builds on the Hebrew concept of “hesed”, which is translated steadfast love. We find that the love of God calls Jonah to an enemy, pursues him in his rebellion through storm and whale, and forgives some of the most vicious men in history, because they repent.
Whether we admit it or not, we all have a problem with the love of God. We struggle with His grace in the lives of our enemies and often with His grace in our own lives.
Is it justice or love that offends you? That which offends you, God is!
The Church of Lake Guntersville Downtown will begin a series on the story of Jonah and God’s love this Sunday night at 6:00 pm. The Church of Lake Guntersville Downtown meets in the back of “Baker’s on Main” at 336 Gunter Ave Guntersville, Al 35976.