Jonah, the whale and the racist rant

Jonah, the whale and the racist rant

“When God saw what they [the Ninevites] had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways, he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened. This change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry.” Jonah 3:10 & 4:1

This passage of scripture is just unbelievable!

In the verses that follow, Jonah basically says, “I knew it! This is the reason I didn’t want to go to Nineveh! I knew you were going to show mercy! I hate it when you show mercy to other people! I would rather die than see these wicked Ninevites receive grace.” (Read Jonah 4 for a detailed description!)

One of the great teachings of the book of Jonah is that it’s possible to understand God’s grace theologically and to have powerfully experienced it personally, and to still behave like a racist.

Jonah may have received mercy from God, but he wanted every other people group to experience judgment. He wanted ‘his people’ to be uniquely and unequivocally special.

Jonah had got his heart, mind and attitude into a very bad place. He’d radically distorted and misapplied the grace of God in his life.

The tragic reality in Jonah’s life was that although he’d experienced grace, he was unable to embrace God’s heart for people from every tribe and language and nation and people group.

The lie that lurked in Jonah’s soul was that there was something special about his race that was particularly attractive to God, that they were somehow more deserving of grace.

To Jonah, grace wasn’t undeserved, unmerited favour but rather God’s recognition of true quality, his stamp of approval.

That thinking is an affront to the gospel.

Tim Keller writes: “Racial pride and cultural narrowness cannot coexist with the gospel of grace. They are mutually exclusive. One forces the other out. Because of the self-justifying nature of the human heart, it is natural to see our own culture or class characteristics as superior to everyone else’s. But this natural tendency is arrested by the gospel.”

Racial pride isn’t a political issue, it’s a gospel issue. And when we give ourselves over to racism we push the gospel out of our lives.

Friends, this is still a very live issue in our churches today:

Listen to how John Stott puts it:

“It is simply impossible, with any shred of Christian integrity, to go on proclaiming that Jesus by his cross had abolished the old divisions and created a single new humanity of love, while at the same time we are contradicting our message by tolerating racial or social or other barriers within our church fellowship…”

Theologian Klyne Snodgrass writes:

“Christians of other races are part of us, and divisions cannot be allowed to continue. The racial barrier is like a festering wound in the body of Christ….Sunday is often the most segregated day of the week, for Christians worship along racial lines….the perversion of both active and passive racism must be challenged and stopped.”

The book of Jonah shows us that it is possible for God’s people to be separated from God’s global purposes because they’re stuck in racial or ethnic superiority.

So, what are we going to do about it? How are we going to break down the barriers in our own lives and in our church communities so that God can ultimately be glorified?

Editor’s note: This article is part of a series on ‘Diversity’ this month which explores diversity in the Gospel, how we can create diversity in our own lives, and how our church communities can express and celebrate diversity. You may also want to read this article on how we’re actually 99.9% the same!

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This post was written by
Steve is the Lead Elder of Jubilee Community Church in Cape Town. He is married to Anna and has two boys Josh and Ben, and a daughter, Bethany. Steve is passionate about seeing leaders and local churches reach their redemptive potential.

2 Comments on "Jonah, the whale and the racist rant"

  • Eulogi Rheeder says

    Wow! Thanks Steve for this thought provoking piece. Have never looked at this story in this way, and never again will I look at it the same way. What a great way to illustrate God’s heart towards us and our hearts, so often, to one another (His people).

    I’m challenged in my own life in how I can be more inclusive and break down barriers. I think the more I move towards addressing those barriers – even if I don’t always get it right or if I make mistakes along the way – the easier it will be to break it down in time.

    Perhaps it’s also having certain tough conversations and not tolerating those conversations that aren’t in line with what we should fundamentally believe.

    Reading things that challenge me. Engage on every level.

    Thanks for leaving me to ponder – it’s moments like this that also moves me towards breaking down those barriers.

  • Sean says

    Thanks for the article

    I think one thing that is needed to deal with racism and other types of prejudice is look at one thing that I think is very prevalent in our politically correct / do not offend other people culture – passive aggressive behaviour.

    I found this article very helpful:

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