From the Inside Looking Out1
I’m an observer, usually a quiet observer. I think much and talk little. This may sound surprising since public speaking occupies much of what I do. But outside of preaching, teaching, and leading in worship, I generally speak very little. In a crowded room, I’m the guy who finds a quiet corner and espies the social dynamics at play. This is my MO in most spheres of life - especially current events, political opinion, and Christian drama. Six months into 2020, one doesn’t have to look too hard to find an abundance of all three on newsfeeds and social media platforms. Sadly, many posts and reposts shoot from the hip, quickly drawn towards the general direction of the opposition, without precision and little thought.But I digress. I’m not here to talk about how to use or abuse social media platforms. As a silent observer of all that is going on, I want to throw out one thought to believers from my place on the sidelines. This thought comes in the form of a question: disciple of Jesus, when you look out at the unbelieving world, what do you see?
Two weeks ago, the Lord pressed upon me a convicting passage—Jonah 4:10-11. The book of Jonah ends with these verses in the form of a question. God asks Jonah, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”
This question hammers home the point of the book with a loud bang. Jonah did not flee away from his ministry in Nineveh out of fear for his life. We could understand why that might have been his motive. The Assyrians dealt with their enemies brutally and ruthlessly. Why would they deal differently with Jonah? But fear for his life didn’t drive him; fear for God’s mercy on the Assyrians did.
After he did preach and the people repented, Jonah censers his lips no longer. Jonah 4:1-2, “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the LORD and said, ‘O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.’”
The problem with Jonah was his attitude. He looked out at the Assyrians and saw only enemies. Yes, they were enemies to the nation, but enemies that needed mercy for true reform. His gaze outward should have been one of compassion. True, they had committed great atrocities. True, they worshipped false gods, but they were lost. They were enslaved to their own sin, needing redemption—just like Jonah before the Lord redeemed him.
I wonder if in our cultural and political debates, all we see are enemies—enemies to our cause, enemies to our version of America, enemies to our ideals. (There are enemies of the cross—Phil 3:2, 18; Rom 11:28; Acts 13:10, but the enemies are focused in on false teachers and those actively opposing the work of Christ. Even then, we should heed Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:43-44 and Luke 6:27). Have we lost our compassion for those are blinded to the Gospel (2 Cor 4:4)? What do we see when we look out to the unbelieving world?