[Today’s run: 3 miles]
We have had some nice cool days recently. And the trees are changing colors.
I ate the remains of my Sunday Old Chicago dinner Calzone for dinner last night. It was still very good and I enjoyed eating it. But now my tummy is rumbly and gurggly and I’ve been awake and thinking night-time thoughts while listening (and feeling) the cacophony in my middle.
If I don’t pick up my cell phone in these situations it works out better, although I usually do pick up my cell phone and troll through my internet haunts looking for things of interest or news. It is better instead to think about the puzzles of the day, mostly from work projects but sometimes from home projects. A good puzzle is one that doesn’t involve trying to convince or change some other person. I don’t enjoy the kind of how-to-get-person-X-to-change or why-did-person -Y-do/say- that type of puzzle. Much better is the why-is-my-computer-program-spitting-out-Z’s-when-I-meant-it-to-spit-out-3’s? type of puzzle.
So I’ve been thinking some of that about the current puzzles at work.
But also, recently, I’ve had a number of puzzles in my mind from the Book of Jonah in the Bible. More of the people-puzzle type, but at arms length of a few hundreds of years and half a globe in distance.
The recent one has been: Why was Jonah so upset?
You’ll remember the story: Jonah is a prophet and he is told to go pronounce doom on the inhabitants of Ninevah which is a large city, the capitol of a foreign country which has rudely treated Jonah’s country (and others), and are actively dangerous to all of the things that Jonah holds dear. Jonah has to be forcibly persuaded to go and do this. When he does, the Ninevites repent and God relents from the doom and Jonah is very unhappy about it all, he says he wants to die.
And Jonah has a good point. Later the Asserians overrun Jonah’s country and carry people away and basically destroy it all.
I’ve come to some conclusion in my mind about Jonah’s reaction.
First, I see it as no small thing that Jonah actively and drastically resisted going to Ninevah. He later says this is because he knows that God has a personality bent toward mercy. And I infer that Jonah saw his mission to Ninevah as an invitation to repentence. Jonah was of the chosen people, his country was the country of the chosen people. Jonah’s job as a prophet was to help communicate God’s desires and intentions to the chosen people.
Jonah’s mission to pronounce doom was a communication that God didn’t have to make. He could have stomped the Ninevites without warning or worn them down through the boring circumstances of life. But He sends Jonah to make this pronouncement and in so doing elevates the Ninevites to join the chosen people in being receptors of the message of God.
Jonah rebels and heads the opposite direction, or, taken in the kindest possible light, takes the long way, the very long way. God cuts off that avenue. Not only that but He organizes things so that the heathen sailors end up glorifying Him, and miracles are done. Jonah ends up doing a dark and wet and unpleasant time-out inside a fish, which convinces him to do his job. He does the unpleasant task of presenting the possibility of salvation to those he doesn’t want to be saved.
And God wakes in them the ability to repent, which they do. And He relents from doom. And Jonah is both vindicated and destroyed. He is vindicated in his fear that repentance is real.
Presumably Jonah goes back to his regular job as a prophet to the chosen people and has the normal experience of preaching to people who don’t repent very much.
My thoughts tonight were about repentence. We live in a time of moral certainty. People of wide opinion are solidly certain in their opinion. And usually that moral certainty is deployed against someone who has transgressed in one way or another, tracking them down, revealing their failure to the world, making them accept the punishment of being an outcast, beyond redemption.
From one point a view that is kind of refreshing. We’ve had some periods of libertine excess in my lifetime. And now to have people so zealous for human rights, sexual purity, racial justice, restraint of power, it’s really kind of shocking. The boundaries aren’t always the boundaries I would choose, but it is nice that there are some.
The part that is missing though is that the moral wrath of this kind doesn’t have any place for repentance. If a priest fondles a child, the punishment is an eternal label and outer darkness. That’s all there is to offer. So there is a great search for extenuating circumstances, psychiatric explanation, abject abasement and apology continuously offered (and rejected).
The trouble is that we can’t do what God can do. He can repair and heal. All we can do is own up and apologize, which is good but not really enough.
In Mr. Board’s Bible Class I learned the definition of repentence. Repentence is a change of mind leading to a change of direction in action and a change in relationship.
One of the lessons from Jonah to me is that repentance is a real thing. To discover real repentance would seem to require a level of communication that we just don’t have. How can we tell if someone is really changed? How can I tell if even I myself am truly repentant? But we do experience it. Someone will quit smoking. They are no longer a smoker. Maybe they will fall back for a short time, but they get back on the wagon. They are happy to consider themselves non-smokers. Do you smoke? No.
Another lesson is that the Chosen People thing is mis-deployed. Jonah was a chosen person, literally. He was sent on a job. We so often fall into the pattern of thinking that the chosen people are special people are the chosen people because they are the special people. I ran into that in church, looking back in my life. The people on the inside would look at the people on the outside and be sorely tempted to see themselves as special and blessed and chosen and lots of other happy words, while the less fortunate heathen and unwashed and damned are out there, which may be a useful contrast if it leads to compassion and action but not so much if it hardens. And harden it will if there is no conception of repentance.
It’s a conundrum. Things would actually be better if our enemies, the ones who reject our morality, would repent. But then what to do with their former transgressions? As far as I know there is no Woke Savior who will take away the sins of the non-Woke, nor an Environmental Savior who can restore the Snail Darter once exterminated.