Speaker: Jerry Cisar
Pastors wanting to motivate their church to evangelize or go on mission often turn to the book of Jonah. This isn’t all wrong but going to any book with an agenda mutes the message of the book. According to such an approach, the evangelism message of Jonah is either that you can’t run from God so you better go ahead and tell your neighbor the gospel because you don’t want to end up in the belly of a fish. Or, Jonah was a terrible messenger who didn’t have his heart in it, and look at the revival which he experienced.
Another tact is to use Jonah to address “racism” or xenophobia. Jonah just didn’t like people who weren’t Jews (though he didn’t seem to have problems with the pagan sailors). A creative approach I saw this week suggested that Jonah is about mission: God’s mission to Jonah. If that’s the case, the book ends not telling us whether God’s mission was a success or a failure.
There’s a thread of truth in all of these, but that they obscure the message of the book itself. What is the message of Jonah? From the perspective of Jonah, the character in the story’s real time, it is about the absurdity of God’s compassion. From the Lord’s perspective, as he acts and speaks in the story’s real time, it is about His people’s preoccupation with and misconception of justice. Putting these together it highlights the strangeness of God’s way in the world.