Jonah, American Christianity, and the Inner Cities


Now the word of LORD came to Jonah, the son of Amittai saying "Arise, go to Ninevah, that great city and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me". 

But Jonah rose to flee....from the presence of the LORD 
(Jonah ch1)
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And Jesus said to them, his disciples, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.
(Mark 16.15)

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American Christianity is Jonah.

It is easy to look at the events that happen in American inner cities where black teenagers are shot and killed by law enforcement and  and pick sides. Regardless of what side we stand on, there are not 2 sides of this issue. There are 3. 

1) the side that says law enforcement did the right thing
2) the side that says law enforcement did the wrong thing
3) God's side

Anyone that has been a Christian for any length of time, knows the story of Jonah. The cute version is taught in Sunday school classes across the country, keeping the focus on the big whale and Jonah in the whale's belly. Then after 3 days, the whale spits him up onto the beach and off Jonah goes...to Ninevah, to tell a wicked and evil group of people that God wants them to repent. 

The first time I studied Jonah as an adult, I was surprised to discover that Jonah, though a prophet of God, turned out to be pretty rebellious, not because of what He did, but mostly due to  what he did not do. He refused to do what God asked him to do and ran away from God, or attempted to, as if that were possible. 

A little background information on Jonah is that he prophesied to the northern Kingdom when Israel was divided. 

Jonah was a well respected prophet. According to Nancy Guthrie's The Word of the Lord- Seeing Jesus in the Prophets, she writes 

"Jonah was popular in a way that most prophets were not, a popularity he probably enjoyed". 

Meaning, the people of Israel, God's people, esteemed Jonah in such a way that if he were living today, he might  have had the title of celebrity pastor, Christian leader, famous Christian blogger,  or mega church pastor.

Jonah liked the recognition he got as a leader, God's go-to guy. He liked the accolades, the respect, the following. He gave people a word from the LORD and enjoyed being used by God in mighty ways. 

Then God told him to do something that Jonah was not ready for. It was not on Jonahs' radar and definitely was not on Jonah's heart.

God asked Jonah to go into a city and tell them to repent.

"Wait a minute God. You want me to go into THAT city and tell them to repent. They are not worth the time and effort to go. They are a people different from us.  They are evil, wicked, full of sin and brutality. Let them devour each other because we got better things to do, like go overseas." 

In essence, Jonah said these words with his actions, even though he never uttered them with words. 

When Jonah finally came to his senses, he did go into the city. He told them God wanted them to repent. Instead of blowing Jonah off, surprisingly, they repented. The people in that great city who, according to God, were so lost and so broken they did not know their right hand from their left, repented and turned to Jonah's God.

When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh:

“By the decree of the king and his nobles:

Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”
  
God did relent. God looked down on the depravity of that great city and felt pity. (Jonah 4:10) 

His heart broke for the lost. 

God knew the only solution to their depravity was Himself. 

God knew that the only solution to their brokenness was Himself. 

God knew the only way they were going to come to Him was through repentance.  

He did not see individual circumstances, systemic oppression, poverty, disrespect to authority, injustice, corruption, lying, violence as something to be fixed and definitely did not send Jonah to fix these problems. 

He sent Jonah to tell them to repent and to tell them about Himself. 



We can look at inner cities as places to be fixed, throwing ourselves into all kinds of ministries and humanitarian activities. We then find ourselves burned out because there are no heart changes in peoples lives....so brokenness continues...generation after generation.

OR

We can look at Ferguson and see it as a "not my problem" issue, as Jonah did. 

OR

We can see that these places....just need God, because we realize and trust that only God changes people hearts, thus changing people's lives and behavior.

When Christian leaders, celebrity pastors, and anything in between, stop trying to make a name for themselves, but instead, go into hard places, like Ferguson, then maybe.......? 

When was the last time a celebrity pastor or Christian leader organized or was a part of a major Christian conference that was accessible to those living in impoverished neighborhoods? I know of only one.

There is a serious problem in our American Christianity when we care more about a reality t.v. family who depicts a "nice clean Christian life" with 19 kids than the broken lives of moms that live in our inner cities that can't feed their 4 kids. 

Do we think like Jonah and only want justice to be done to those who we think "deserve" it? 

Do we look at Jesus' words in Mark and ONLY see a directive to go overseas, excusing us from going into hard places in our own cities, like impoverished neighborhoods, where outward sin is blatantly on display, permeating every nook and cranny of people's lives? Or simply put, what if we don't feel like going into those questionable neighborhoods because we don't feel that God has placed that burden on our hearts? 

However...we must remember....it wasn't on Jonah's heart either.

Or do we, dare I say it, think like God, and take pity on the broken and go to them, even if its hard and uncomfortable and messy, to tell them of a great and merciful God, who sent His Son to be reconciled to sinners and the brokenhearted.

Can we humble ourselves and tell the broken people in these cities that we are just as sinful as they are, just as broken as they are and Jesus is OUR only solution. 

Or...are we, myself included, going to park ourselves on a hill outside the city, like Jonah did, and instead of wrestling with our hardened hearts and repent, we ignore the broken and the lost,  instead, filling our lives with ministry after "feel good" ministry making it appear as though we are right on task with what God would have us do. 

Can we stop picking sides based on our American ideals, all the while forgetting Christ and what He's done, and based on our uber conservative ideals we come to close minded conclusions as to who we think deserves justice? 

Can we look at brokenness and see what God sees? 

To quote a great contemporary theologian, the words 

"If ain't nobody in the hood preaching how will they know?" 

could not be more applicable.  

God help us to repent of our American Christianity.