Recently, the news has been full of some fairly unrighteous characters.
Faisal Shahzad tried to bomb Time Square; Jesse James cheated on America’s Sweetheart, Sandra Bullock; and Goldman Sachs was charged by the Securities Exchange Commission for cheating the American people on subprime mortgage deals.
Characters like this make us yearn for the justice of Judgment Day, where they would be forced to spend an eternity in a much warmer climate repeating the mantra of Phoenix residents: “At least it’s a dry heat.”
There’s only one problem with this kind of Judgment Day thinking. It focuses too much on revenge. In the end, this thinking sends us careening down life’s highway with a self-righteous road rage, busting people for making bad turns or going too slow.
Ancient texts tell the story of a man named Jonah whose journey took him down a similar self-righteous highway. It began when God commanded Jonah to preach repentance in the city of his enemy. Jonah refused, because he knew God was a “god of second chances,” and he was certain his enemies deserved God’s wrath, not his mercy.
Refusing an offer from “God[the]fadah” that he couldn’t refuse, Jonah attempted to escape his preaching responsibility by masquerading as a chaplain on a cruise ship. When the boat ran afoul in a storm, Jonah knew he was fish bait.
To save the ship and appease the angry sea, Jonah offered himself as a sacrifice into the waiting jaws of “a great fish.”
Unable to stomach this self-righteous preacher more than three days, the fish spit Jonah out on the enemy shoreline. Jonah skipped through the city, covered in fish slime, gleefully preaching his Judgment Day revenge until an unexpected thing occurred. The entire city wholly accepted the judgment and pleaded for God’s forgiveness.
Jonah blew a gasket. He figured if he did what God asked him to do, God would deliver the Judgment Day. But God had only asked Jonah to tell them about Judgment Day. God didn’t say, “. . . and then I shall smite them with my foot up their sit-upons.”
God said, “Tell ’em, Jonah,” and Jonah told ’em.
They got it.
God was asking Jonah to do the footwork and stay out of the results, but Jonah couldn’t. That’s the hardest part for us, as well. When we try to do the footwork and control the results, we turn in to manipulators and martyrs.
I’ve often wondered what the story of Jonah might have been like if Jonah had responded to the change in the people by saying, “That is very cool, God. Thank you that none us get what we deserve.”
In the end, I have to be grateful every day that I don’t get what I deserve. Can you imagine what life might be like if everyone got what they deserved? I wonder what God’s judgment would be for cutting someone off in traffic, taking an extra long lunch, or wearing stripes with plaids?
Yes, there are a lot of creeps who need to get what they deserve, for their own good if not the good of us all.
When someone has broken the law, we need to enforce the law. We must discern, make decisions and sometimes choose not to associate with people.
But at the end of the day our job will always be to keep our own accounts in order, do our footwork, answer the phone when God calls and let God take care of the rest.
Burkes is a former civilian hospital chaplain and an Air National Guard chaplain. Write firstname.lastname@example.org or visit thechaplain.net. You also can follow him on Twitter, username is “chaplain,” or on Facebook at facebook.com/norrisburkes.