Jonah is called to go to a pagan city to help it avoid destruction, but he is too hostile toward them to want to go. He runs away, but God puts him on a boat filled with pagans anyway. There Jonah is asleep in the boat during the storm. He is awakened by the sailors, who tell him to call on his God to ask him to keep the boat from sinking. They ask him to use his relationship to God to benefit the public good. The Scottish writer Hugh Martin wrote a commentary on this text and called this chapter “The World Rebuking the Church.” Eventually Jonah goes to Nineveh—but when God turns away from destroying them, Jonah is furious. This time God rebukes him for not caring about the whole city and its welfare. Jonah 4:10–11: “You pity the plant. . . . 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 is a picture of the church’s problem in a postmodern world. We simply don’t like the unwashed pagans. Jonah went to the city but didn’t love the city. Likewise, we don’t love the postmodern world in the way we should. We disdain these people who don’t believe in Truth. We create our subculture and we invite people to join us inside, but we don’t take our time, gifts, and money and pour ourselves out in deeds of love and service to our city. Does the world recognize our love for them? Are we the kind of church of which the world says: We don’t share a lot of their beliefs, but I shudder to think of this city without them. They are such an important part of the community. They give so much! If they left we’d have to raise taxes because others won’t give of themselves like those people do. “Though they accuse you . . . they . . . see your good deeds and glorify God” (1 Pet. 2:12; cf. Matt. 5:16 ).
Monday, October 31, 2011
Love and Service to Our City
In The Gospel and the Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World, Tim Keller draws on the story of Jonah to challenge the church's attitude towards its community: