In the past few years, I’ve heard more and more about families split apart because some family members see the world differently from other family members. Where before, people tended to keep their political or religious disagreements to themselves at family get-togethers, now it seems all bets are off.
Now, I agree that we ought to be able to have civil conversations about the things that matter most. To be honest, Christians ought to be setting an example here, though it seems we are often the worst offenders.
But things have grown especially heated lately. Some people just can’t understand why other members of their family believe the things they do or act the way they do or vote for the candidates they do. And rather than cling to all the things they have in common, or go the second mile to remember those things if they’ve forgotten, a lot of people just give up.
Have you ever wanted to write some people off? Have you ever said, “They’re just not worth the effort”?
Jonah did that once. In fact, he wrote off a whole city full of people he had never even met. You see, Nineveh was a wicked city. And that wasn’t just Jonah’s opinion; God agreed with him (1:2)! If there were ever a group of people beyond hope of redemption, it was the people of Nineveh. Therefore, Jonah no doubt felt entirely justified in resisting God’s call and instead getting on a ship headed in the opposite direction.
And then there’s Daryl Davis.
Davis is an African-American blues musician who has spent the past thirty years befriending members of the Ku Klux Klan. It began almost by accident. After playing a set in a bar, a white man struck up a conversation with him, telling him that he appreciated Davis’s piano playing. One thing led to another, and eventually, over many months, this man—who turned out to be a Klansman—realized his racial hatred was untenable.
Davis says that once friendship blossoms, the Klansmen realize their hate may be misguided. So far, he has convinced over 200 of them to give up their robes. He keeps these robes in his home as a reminder of the dent he has made in racism simply by sitting down and having dinner with people.
Wouldn’t it have been great if Jonah had learned that attitude? Instead, when God sends a storm to get his attention, he decides he’d rather take his chances on the open sea than talk to the Ninevites!
What Jonah eventually learns, to his great dismay, is that God’s grace is greater than his resistance, fear, and hatred. It’s a grace so amazing that even the Ninevites deserve to be transformed by it.
Jonah has a role to play, but in the end, what happens to the Ninevites isn’t up to him. And what happened to 200 Klansmen wasn’t ultimately up to Daryl Davis. “I didn’t convert anybody,” he says. “They saw the light and converted themselves.”
Dwane Brown, “How One Man Convinced 200 Ku Klux Klan Members to Give Up Their Robes,” NPR.org, 20 Aug 2017 <https://www.npr.org/2017/08/20/544861933/how-one-man-convinced-200-ku-klux-klan-members-to-give-up-their-robes>.
• Why was Jonah reluctant to obey God?
• How does Jonah’s story challenge us when we are tempted to exchange God’s plans for our own?
• How can we tell if we’re establishing healthy boundaries or simply writing off people we would prefer not to associate with?
• How can we broaden our comfort zones to embrace those who are different?
Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.
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