The Dark Side of Our Faith
But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry . . . “That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish.” Jonah 4:1-2
For the last week, my son and I have been playing the new battlefield video game he got for Christmas. Before each game starts, players assemble in a staging area where for some reason, they can throw fake punches at each other. This doesn’t damage the virtual player, but it’s an obvious act of hostility. Early on, I noticed an odd phenomenon. Anyone who looks significantly different than everyone else, is instantly swarmed by punching players. It’s comical because it doesn’t hurt, but it reveals an inherent, natural, and subtle defect in our thoughts. Anyone different is an enemy.
The flaw in this thinking is revealed in today’s passage in which God relented from overthrowing Nineveh after they repented. Jonah, frankly, was furious at God for his mercy. Nineveh, an Assyrian city, was a long time enemy of Jonah’s people. He hated them and honestly, he looked forward to God wiping them off the face of the Earth. Nineveh is different. Nineveh doesn’t worship God. Nineveh is the enemy. The problem for Jonah, was that God loved these people.
Many of us share Jonah’s fear or dislike of anything different. When coupled with religious conviction that we serve the one true God, we feel completely justified in living a life that is completely contrary to true Christianity. God however, loves the world (John 3:16) and Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:39).
Instead, we fear those who are different, and we hate those who don’t believe like us. This is the dark side of our faith, something manufactured out of our inherent aversion to anything different and amplified by our religious conviction that we are right. Christ commanded us though, to love those whom we don’t believe to be on our side (Matthew 5:44). This applies specifically to those whose lifestyles and faith, we find to be different than our own.
If we desire to live as disciples of Christ, we must follow him, obeying his command to love the neighbors he has put in our lives. This doesn’t apply only to those who look and believe as we do.