A Chaplain of Pirates: Prologue Part Two
I have to confess that I have made these comments myself. It must be admitted that some of them are true, but then all of the above could probably have been said about me and my fellow Christians. We forget that we were all godless reprobates. When we forget this simple fact, we become like Jonah, arrogant and nasty, with a horrible hidden desire to see the godless “judged.”
I have done all of these things. I have avoided atheists. I have wished they would just shut up and accept America as a Christian nation. The last thing I wanted to do was spend any time with them at all.
Then God flipped me off my feet through the story of Jonah and reflection on my own life as a Christian.
When Christians think of Jonah, they think of it almost a kid’s story. Images of a flannel graph prophet and a smiling blue whale enter our minds. The story is anything but comical or childish. It’s a dark exploration into the heart of someone who is supposed to share God’s grace with the entire world. Instead, Jonah prays for the destruction of an entire city.
To appreciate the drama of this story, you have to grasp the character of Jonah. He is a Hebrew. God called the Hebrews to be His representatives to the entire world. Not only is Jonah a part of the chosen people, he is a prophet. He was supposed to be God’s mouthpiece to the chosen people. You would think that when God told Jonah to go to Nineveh to preach repentance, Jonah would have gone.
Instead, he basically gives God a rude gesture and heads in the opposite direction by boat. Now, if you know the Hebrew bible, you know that telling God no is not the best of ideas. It’s a big fail and usually means trouble.
Why did Jonah do it? Why would he risk God’s wrath?
Most likely because of where God was sending him.
Nineveh, in Jonah’s mind, was the worst of the worst. It was the capital of the Assyrian empire, one of the most destructive empires the world has seen. Shock and Awe had nothing on these guys. Unlike the Romans, who pretty much let you do what you want as long as you were peaceful and gave them money, the Assyrians wanted to see your entire way of being burned to the ground and your people wiped off the map.
Now God is sending them one of His chosen prophets so they won’t be destroyed. You can see why this fried Jonah’s brain. It was inconceivable to him. God was the Hebrew’s God. He was supposed to smite and destroy Nineveh, not give it a chance to repent. But Jonah ignored, as do many people in America for that matter, God’s passion for the whole world. Jonah wanted God to be his personal deity, subject to his whims.
God had bigger plans that included the people of Nineveh. Jonah couldn’t handle it and God had to send a big fish to bring him back. Jonah sort of repented in the belly of the fish, and God had the fish spit him back on dry land. The beginning of chapter three tells us that Jonah completed his task; he went to Nineveh. He preached and fulfilled God’s call. Lesson learned, right?
Not according to chapter four.
We see that Jonah’s repentance was based only on the hope that God would bring the wrath against Nineveh. He has a little tailgate party as he waits for Nineveh to go the way of Sodom and Gomorrah. Jonah is ready to watch the fireworks.
They don’t come.
Something is wrong.
Or rather, something is right. God doesn’t destroy Nineveh because they do something that no one expects. They listen to Jonah and repent. Not only do they repent, but they go all the way. Everyone dresses in sackcloth and ashes. Everyone. The King. The nobles. The common people. And much cattle.
Jonah hates the idea. We see this in his reply as he shakes his fist at God telling him, “See? I knew you would do this, you merciful God you. I knew would show mercy to sinners. Now just let me die.”
Seems funny at first, doesn’t it? It would be, if it weren’t such a terrible reflection of Jonah’s rotten heart and his lack of compassion to his worst enemies. His desire to see their destruction is breathtaking in its rank display of hatred.
When it comes to atheists, Christians have become Jonah. Our hearts have become twisted with the desire to see their destruction. The desire to make them shut up so we can avoid the questions they are asking.
I see it in my own heart.
I see my rotten heart in the books, movies and blogs of my brothers and sisters. Our defense is that atheists can be mean, nasty and spread lies. So why can’t we? Whether atheists do such things is not really the point. Since when do we allow someone other than the Holy Spirit to dictate how we respond? Since when is it ok to spread lies, to willfully misrepresent, or to be willfully stupid about what atheists actually think?
In our hearts we compare atheists to Nineveh, but what I hope to show everyone is that Atheists aren’t even close.
Our failure to represent Jesus to atheists is fairly complete. We have not allowed the Gospel to penetrate all the areas of our lives. God reminds Jonah in chapter four that he, Jonah, is a product of God’s grace. Jonah didn’t deserve to come out of that big fish. But God gave Jonah grace and tried to teach Jonah that he needed to show grace to others.
The same goes for us. We have been rescued out of the deep darkness of our big fish, sin, and yet we keep forgetting this simple but profound fact when it comes to atheists. We debate them. We try to prove them wrong. We complain about their billboards.
We hardly ever show them grace. God has to remind us, as he reminded Jonah, that we are products of His grace. I’m hoping sharing my journey with the atheists will help people to apply this grace to people in their life who don’t believe in God. Not just the ones who are quiet about it, but the in your face pirates who don’t mind showing their atheism to the world.
For me, it began when I realized that I’m something of a pirate myself with a wicked anti-authoritarian streak.