Saturday, August 24, 2013
Following Elijah, Not Jonah
Several weeks ago I asked for prayer. Since then, a short-term work assignment has kept me quite busy as I adapt to a senior supervisory role. During that time, I've also grieved as I've read news stories telling senseless violence - teenage boys killing an aged World War 2 hero; different teenage boys killing an Australian college athlete who was a student in our country, killing him because they were bored; and allegations of chemical warfare in Syria. I've also notice what appears to be an increasing militant opposition to Christianity and its values. This opposition sometimes presents itself in ways that threaten the free expression of religious practice by Christians. While Coptic Christian churches burn in Egypt, in America actions by churches are scrutinized for failures in political correctness. I've been discouraged also by Christians who act, speak, and write with apparent hatred for those who disagree. That is not my goal here. Jesus taught his disciples to love their enemies. As Christians, we should act with compassion and listen carefully to those who seem to oppose, to make sure that we understand correctly what they say. We should examine our actions, and the motives for those actions. We should avoid following in the steps of the prophet Jonah, who after preaching to a pagan city that its citizens should repent of their sins, camped outside the city so that he could watch God destroy it. Jonah, you see, didn't want his audience to hear his message. Elijah, who we remember because fire from God consumed his sacrifice, prayed that God would change the hearts of his audience. Elijah cared for the people who heard him. Love, however, does not always translate into tolerance. I might love someone who is determined to kill me, but I would seek separation from such a person. Neither Elijah nor Jonah tolerated the sins of the people to whom they preached. Elijah, however, loved them as he loved God, and because he loved them, sought to persuade them to change. Persuasion is a key words. Biblical Christianity persuades; it does not coerce. I ask again for prayer - for those Christians who are attacked by those who do not share our beliefs or values; for those Christians who act in hatred or fear feeling justified in doing so; for people who commit senseless acts of violence; and for those who seem to hate the cause of Christ and his values. May God turn their hearts back to him. That was Elijah's prayer. It is my prayer, too.