Thursday, March 18, 2010

Jonah's Hatred: A Whale of a Tale

As promised a few weeks ago, this is the second post in the series on hatred. See February 25 post if another look or first look is needed. This post focuses more directly on the hatred directed toward others. I have been thinking about, praying over and researching this post for several weeks now. With many different directions to take on the idea of hatred, it has been difficult to narrow the focus down to one single path. Possibly, this is because I have a great deal of trouble dealing with my own hatred toward others, and not just toward the ex. Everyone knows we should not hate. Children are taught from a very early age to not “hate.” They are taught to strongly dislike, but not to go as far as actual hatred. As adults, we realize that there is really little difference in the terms “strongly dislike” and “hate” although we don’t always realize the detrimental effects that hatred can have on our own personal lives.

Typically, a devotion on hatred would provide external reasons as to the importance in not hating. It would explain that we should love both our brother and our enemy just the same for reasons that are supported with Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. It would not, however, tell us why this principle is so important to us or our well-being. Just like my toddler who asks “why” to every statement directed at her, I want to know why it is so important that I not hate my enemy – or even my ex-husband.

The thought of toddlers brings up an excellent illustration. My three year old is obsessed with Veggie Tales. She has the theme song memorized and is very willing to recite the storyline of any number of Veggie Tale lessons. The Easter Bunny is even getting on board with Veggie Tales this year as her entire basket will be nothing but Veggie Friends and DVDs. (Shhh, that is a secret.) As a mother, I like the animated stories almost as much as the three year old does. They are short, teach a valuable moral or Biblical lesson and most of all they are interesting to both children and adults. What’s not to love?

The toddler’s current veggie favorite is Jonah and the Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything. In this tale, we see the story of Jonah, played by Archibald Asparagus, in a different light than you may remember as a child. Jonah is still the star of the show; he still receives a message from God to preach to the Ninevites. Jonah runs from God, gets on a ship where he is thrown overboard by the Pirates in order to stop a terrible storm and yes, the whale still swallows Jonah and spits him back on the shore three days later. Jonah, smelling awfully fishy, goes to Nineveh to deliver the message just as God asked him. With a terrible attitude Jonah tells the king, played by a large butternut squash, that if the king and his people do not start behaving in a more pleasing manner God will destroy the city and all those who live there. The king decrees that the immoral and criminal behavior will cease in hopes that God will spare them. But, Jonah, who is looking forward to witnessing God’s wrath on his enemies, goes outside the city to await the impending “fireworks.”

Coincidentally, the past few weeks’ lessons in Sunday school have discussed the same story of Jonah, minus the vegetables. After learning a little more about the circumstances between the Israelites and the Ninevites during the time of Jonah, it became easier to understand why Jonah did not wish to share his God with the people of Nineveh. Some research offered a even more insight. From the time of Hellenistic Greeks, the city had been a pagan center of worship. By Jonah’s time, around 793 B.C., the city was being built into a great and powerful capitol of Assyria. With their location on the Tigris River, the Assyrians had cut off trade routes in an effort to control the economic and political affairs of Israel. It sounds similar to an Old Testament version of the Cold War. Jeroboam II became king of Israel in 786 B.C. and was able to recover some of the land lost to the Assyrians. During the reign of Jeroboam, Israel prospered due to the peaceful relationships with the Assyrians but the Assyrians were still very much feared and hated. The Israelite’s attitude toward the Assyrians might have been similar to the attitude of my grandfathers toward Germany even long after the tensions caused by World War II had died down. Further, it didn’t help that a few generations before Jonah came onto the scene, the prophet Amos had foretold of the Israelites being taken captive by the Assyrians. And sure enough, around 722 B.C the Assyrians conquered the ten tribes of Northern Israel and scattered them all over the Middle East. According to archeological findings, the walls of the palace were carved with battle scenes, images of impaled Israelites and depictions of parading soldiers presenting the spoils of war to the king; it was gruesome overtaking of the Israelites. A century later in 625, the two remaining tribes of Judah fell to a power struggle between the Assyrians, Egyptians and Mesopotamians. Only the lower classes were allowed to remain at this time; the professionals or skilled tradesmen were forced to relocate. This was the end of any type of Israel until 1948 A.D. which is modern Israel as we know it today.

With that history lesson under our belts, it is easy to understand Jonah’s hatred toward the Ninevites. In Jonah’s mind there was nothing about the people of Nineveh that should allow them the favor of God’s second chance. So, as the story continues, Jonah goes out to the edge of the city and waits. He waits and waits and waits – in the blazing hot sun. God felt sorry for pitiful Jonah in the hot sun, so He made a vine grow to shade the cocky preacher. Jonah was very pleased with his vine, but the next day a worm eats the vine and God caused the sun to be even harsher. Jonah becomes faint, becomes terribly enraged that the vine is gone, and wishes that he could die. This is how the conversation went according to the book of Jonah:

God: "Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?"

Jonah: "I do. I am angry enough to die."

God: "You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left... Should I not be concerned about that great city?"

And that is where it ends. Seriously, the whole book of Jonah, the entire story is finished with those words. We don’t know anymore. We are left with an image of a once great man sitting in the desert to rot. Jonah allowed his hatred of the Ninevites to rot his soul, his very being. This hatred had turned him into a bitter old man, from whom we never hear again.

As with almost everything God requires of His followers, He does so with good reason. God tells us to forgive, essentially let go of our hatred, in order that we don’t allow that very hatred to consume us. By not offering forgiveness to our enemies or our ex-spouse or whomever, we allow that hate, and by extension the enemy to mentally, emotionally and spiritually kill us. In the case of Jonah, it seems that his hatred did not stop at killing his soul but physically killed him in that scorching hot desert.

I don’t pretend to know exactly how we are to reach a point where we can offer our enemies forgiveness. I think that is something that has to be done very carefully after spending many hours on your knees in therapy with our Savior. And, I believe that God offers us some suggestions to offering forgiveness, some of which I will discuss next week. In the mean time I leave you with a prayer from Christian Word Ministries. Let this lead you to God’s lap and in turn allow God to lead you to that place of forgiveness – not just for the sake of your enemy, not just because God has told you to, but for your own personal healing.

Prayer to Help Against Anger

Lord Jesus I truly regret my sin of anger, I come to You in humility and lowliness of mind. I acknowledge my sin of anger and I repent, I turn from that way to walk in Your chosen paths of Righteousness. I ask You to forgive me and cleanse me of all unrighteousness, pride, self-centeredness, hate, rage, bitterness, resentment, strife, contention, taking offense, giving offense, misplaced hostility, indifference and all forms of anger in my life.

Lord Jesus, Your Word says that Your anointing destroys all yokes of bondage (Isaiah 10:27) so I ask You now to cause Your anointing to break and destroy any yokes and strongholds of pride, self-centeredness, hate, rage, bitterness, resentment, strife, contention, taking offense, giving offense, misplaced hostility, indifference, and all forms of anger in my life along with all of their works, roots, fruits, tentacles and links that are in my life, the lives of anyone that I have prayed for today according to John 14:14, in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen!

I ask You Lord to force out all spirits of pride, self-centeredness, hate, rage, bitterness, resentment, strife, contention, taking offense, giving offense, misplaced hostility, indifference, control, and anger from me and any replacements of evil spirits trying to come back from the Abyss, bound till they are judged and thrown into the Lake of Fire. Lord Jesus fill me in all these areas that were set free with Your Love and Your Holy Spirit. Amen.

The story of Jonah and the Pirates who Don’t Do Anything comes from the Big Idea, Inc feature film titled Jonah: A Veggie Tales Movie.

Dates and historical information directly associated with Jonah, Jeroboam II and the Israelites are taken from The Greenleaf Guide to Old Testament History: History for the Thoughtful Child by Rob and Cyndy Shearer, published by Greenleaf Press. All other dates and historical information are taken from from A History of the Ancient World by Chester G. Starr, published by Oxford University Press.

“Prayer to Help Against Anger” is used by permission, Christian Word Ministries, Lexington, Kentucky.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Red Bud Blooms: God's Faithfulness

I am a news junky, but I am a snobby news junky. I love national news. I really enjoy “breaking news,” especially when the breaking news isn’t quite as newsworthy as the news guys thought it would be; think of the tsunami watch that we all ogled last Saturday. However, I loathe local news. Regardless of what city the new is local, it is awful. Because of this hatred for local news, I never know what the weather is doing until I walk out the front door.

Because of this lack of knowledge of the daily forecast, I was prepared for a chilly start to what I thought would be an otherwise beautiful Sunday. After an extraordinarily frustrating weekend, I was rather looking forward to sunshine glimmering through the windows of the church yesterday morning when I walked out the front door to a cloudy, overcast sky. It looked like the making of yet another one of those days that have been the norm this winter. My spirit sank. I was looking forward to sunshine and warmer temperatures that were nowhere to be seen. I began the drive to church literally dreading the cold and wet that were sure to follow. Even the bare trees on the mountain side seemed gloomier with their limbs drooping in the morning dew. They too had been looking forward to a taste of spring.

Then, out of the gray dreariness they appeared on the corner across the street from the church – three bright pink red bud trees. They were glorious! There are few things prettier than the early blooms of a red bud, but these were even better set against such a pale backdrop. Immediately, my soul was lifted and I felt rejuvenated. I sat at the traffic signal and said a prayer of thanks to a God that has expressed His personal beauty in the nature around us. I immediately began to think about this post. So much so that I drove back to the church that evening with my camera just to take a picture of the three trees.

To me the trees served as an example of God faithfulness to provide. In this case, after a particularly arduous winter, we crave those pleasant breezes through our hair and the warm sunshine on our cheeks. Likewise, after the long, dry, southern summer we find ourselves anticipating the cooler air and long shadows of fall. In addition to the agricultural necessity of the changing of the seasons, it is God’s way of reminding us that just at the moment we become weary, He will provide the refreshing breeze our soul so desperately needs.

Of course, the first verse that comes to mind is Ecclesiastes 3:1-8: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.” Side note: This, in turn, made me think of The Byrds song, "Turn, Turn, Turn". (And yes, the pun was intended.) The song is surprisingly verbatim for the verses.

However, after the encounter with the red buds, the order of worship for our Morning Worship service materialized as if it had been planned in tandem with the thoughts of God’s faithfulness to renew our weariness. Different verses and thoughts came into consideration in light of the changing of the seasons. The call to worship was titled, “My Soul Thirsts For You, O God.” The scripture reading for the day was Psalm 63:1-8 which begins, “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory.” We went on to sing one of my favorite hymns, “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” which only continued to speak to the evidence given by the changing seasons for God’s provisions with stanzas like:

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided;
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Now to the correlation between all the trees and songs and devotions on divorce: I have a friend who is currently in the process of divorcing her adulterous husband. She filed for divorce sometime early last summer and they have not yet reached mediation. She is living in very difficult circumstances while awaiting decisions to be made and they have a long way to go before anything will be finalized. Another friend fought a similarly difficult battle with her spouse for over two years before the judge at last signed the papers. By comparison my personal divorce was short and simple. I filed the first week of August and everything was said and done by October 29th. But even as quick as mine was settled, we continue to work through the difficulties of shared custody. There are great feelings of walking through a “dry and weary land where there is no water.” The bleakness of the winter is endured while longing for the refreshment of spring.

That is the promise God has made and the promise that He reminds us of with the changing of every season. It is the promise that it is just a season through which we are passing. One of the few things I remember my late grandmother saying was “the Bible never says “and it came to stay,’ it always says, ‘and it came to pass.’” She was making gravy over a hot stove during August in Mobile when she said those words. We were miserable HOT and were desperate for the cool breezes October promised. In a similar fashion, divorce is a season of our life that God has promised will pass. Even, in the midst of the dreariness, God continues to prove faithful. Verse 8 of Psalm 63 says, “my soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.” God has promised that there is hope coming and until that red bud tree blooms or the first fall breeze blows through the changing leaves, His right hand is outstretched allowing us to rest.