“Go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” The people of Nineveh believed God. When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: “Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands.”
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them.
Jonah 3:2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10
The people of Nineveh knew they were doing bad things. Their lives were evil and violent, in the words of their own king.
When a prophet of God called them out on it, they – including the king – repented immediately.
I wish such a scenario could be repeated today in the United States.
For starters, if a prophet of God were to proclaim such a message today, he (or she) would be either ridiculed or ignored. We’d find ways to dilute such a prophet’s message, or refute it, or pretend we didn’t hear it.
Flaunting our evil
The lines between good and evil are often blurred today.
Even when the lines are straight and we know right from wrong, we often flaunt our sins.
- Just yesterday I saw the driver of a pickup truck on the highway weaving in and out of traffic, going 10 to 15 mph faster than everyone else was driving. He cared nothing for traffic laws on the books or the welfare of anyone around him, including me. This is nearly an everyday occurrence in my world.
- When was the last time a popular movie or TV show celebrated marriage and the marriage bed?
- Violence makes the news every day in this country. In Chicago, for example, 409 people have been killed so far this year. That is 126 fewer than 2017, according to the Chicago Tribune. I saw a blurb the other day that said Chicago went 22 hours without a single shooting being reported. That’s what we’ve become: almost a whole day with no shootings is a moral victory.
- Police officers, teachers and parents do not have the respect that they should. Some of that is their own fault. Some of it is not.
- Politicians can’t decide right from wrong in any situation these days. No matter how they rule in the Judge Brett Kavanaugh case regarding his U.S. Supreme Court nomination, many of us will get angry. People on both sides are convinced they have the moral high ground. Politicians can’t get it right because we the people won’t let them. Because we the people no longer know what the moral high ground is.
- Addictions have become an epidemic: opioids, illegal drugs, alcohol, pornography, social media, our jobs … many things. Choice or disease? We’d rather debate that than actually solve any addiction problems.
Experience vs. reason
Was life simpler back in Old Testament times?
The people of Nineveh dealt with the same temptations and evil things that we do. We have far more technology, of course, so we can disseminate evil much faster and more efficiently.
The people of Nineveh didn’t always follow the king’s lead; they responded to Jonah’s message first, then reported it to the king. To the king’s credit, he was paying attention to the pulse of his city.
I wish we had the listening skills that the Ninevites – the people and the king – did, and even more, the discernment to determine good and evil, as they did.
Instead, we justify ourselves.
Experience comes before reason.
In a previous chapter of my life, I was deeply involved in the United Methodist Church. A basic tenet of that denomination is the Wesley Quadrilateral, named for the founder of Methodism, John Wesley. The quadrilateral is: Scripture, tradition, reason and experience.
In that order.
Except that some United Methodists prefer to flip the order, starting with experience, and using reason, tradition and Scripture to justify their experiences.
That debate now permeates our common culture.
If we can’t agree on the basic tenets of what our society should be, how can we possibly solve our moral dilemmas?
That’s what Nineveh had that we do not.
I did it my way
Unfortunately, there’s just enough truth in every modern viewpoint to muddy the waters. Women and immigrants are real people. Abortion is the death of a human being.
Laws should align with those tenets.
They frequently don’t.
Or if they do, we have to fight for them.
And because of our propensity to flaunt laws we don’t agree with, we are becoming an anarchy – refusing to accept authority. Rule by the individual. I have my rights and I’ll do what I want.
If it hurts you, I don’t care.
If I kill you on the road or abort my son or daughter, it doesn’t matter to me. If you don’t satisfy me as a lover, I’ll find one who does.
Never mind the collateral damage.
I did it my way, in the words popularized in 1969 – almost a half-century ago – by Frank Sinatra.
Many of us today have taken those lyrics to heart. We try to justify our actions. And we frequently get away with them.
Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me
Sackcloth and ashes. How archaic.
That attitude is too, isn’t it?
The people of Nineveh asked God to forgive them for their evil and violent ways. God listened, and forgave them.
As a secular – very secular – city.
Then, for a time at least, the people of Nineveh actually changed their ways. Until temptations lured them into evil and violence again.
Is this even possible in 2018 in our country?
It is possible, yes, but I don’t see it happening any time soon. That would require a willingness to admit that we are on the wrong track as a nation, as Nineveh did. We can’t point fingers at others and say, “You need to repent.”
No. The people of Nineveh got down on their own knees.