Muslims. Extremists. ISIS. Terrorists. Our news sites are filled with stories about the latest terrorist news; atrocities, and the comments filled with anxiety about what might happen to us in Australia and Muslims not integrating into our communities.
Recently, our Prime Minister coined the phrase ; “Team Australia” (reference) and said that new migrants are welcome as long as they are on our team.
There are many, who at first glance, would agree with this statement – even as Christians. Some months ago, I posted an article about how in the Gospel of Mark, Christ and his kingdom are contrasted with the political kingdoms of this world. As Christians, we can only belong to one team, and that’s Team Jesus.
Early Christians lived to better the empire
Don’t get me wrong – the Christians of the first few centuries lived to better the empire. Tertullian in his apologetic work, argued that Christians might not pray to the emperor – but they prayed for him, and prayed for the empire as a whole. “There is also another and a greater necessity for our offering prayer in behalf of the emperors, nay, for the complete stability of the empire, and for Roman interests in general” Chapter XXXII. Tertullian argued that the early Christians, worked for the good of the empire – and saw it as their duty to serve. Likewise, we as Christians living in Australia should work for the betterment of our society – without switching teams. We serve because we are part of Team Jesus.
In Mere Christianity, CS Lewis says something incredibly poignant for Christians living in Australia today (bits in red added by me for emphasis)
“Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper (About Muslim Extremists). Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out (About Muslims having a good old fashioned Aussie BBQ). Is one’s first feeling, ‘Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils.”
If we see ourselves as part of “Team Australia” – Australian first, and Christian second, then it is very possible to see Muslims as the enemy, and treat them with suspicion, with prejudice. Any news reports we read of Muslims being less than evil – we dismiss. We’d much rather believe that they are our enemies.
But if we identify ourselves as Christians first, part of “Team Jesus” then we should in the least, view them as people needing God’s love. But even if we still view them as enemies – the Gospel still shows us how to respond.
Surprisingly, its the Old Testament that we first get some idea of the conflict between being a part of two “teams” – a political team, and God’s team.
Jonah and Team Israel
In the Old Testament book of Jonah, we see two nations. God’s chosen people, the nation of Israel, and the nation of Assyria – in particular it’s capital: Nineveh. The Assyrians were known for their violence (reference). They were a cruel people known for skinning their enemies alive and forcing them to grind the bones of their dead relatives. They truly were ‘terrorists’. This brand of cruelty is very reminiscent of ISIS that we see in Syria and Iraq today, in 2014.
Jonah was fiercely patriotic, he loved Israel and he hated Assyria. And he was perhaps the most bitter, hateful, reluctant prophet in scripture (which is a fascinating study on the grace of God in ministry). He was very much afraid that Assyria would sweep over Israel, and subject them to the same kinds of torment that they had inflicted on other neighboring countries. He was worried that Assyria would forever change, the Israeli ‘way of life’, if left alive. Jonah was convinced the only solution was for God to wipe them off the face of the earth, and he was furious when God did not.
Jonah’s love for God eventually overcame his hatred of his enemies, and he eventually told them that judgement from God was coming. He specifically left out news of a chance for redemption, if they would only repent. But a wondrous thing happened: The Assyrians repented anyway. An Assyrian revival broke out. They threw themselves onto the mercy of God – on the “chance” that he might relent. “Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” Jonah 3:9
Jonah was not pleased when God saw their repentant hearts and spared the city. He had sat down to watch the fireworks and gloat over his enemies, and soon realised that God’s promised judgement wasn’t coming. “But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry.” Jonah 4:1 Jonah was angry at God’s compassion. Some commentators say, that Jonah’s comments about wanting to die, are related to him being as good as dead – if the Assyrians are left alive.
Jonah’s anger at God’s compassion concludes in God’s closing statement: “And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”
There are so many parallels between Jonah and Jesus. Both were asleep on the boat when the storm hit, both were willing to sacrifice themselves, both spent 3 days in the tomb, both preached against sin, both were on a mission for the gentiles. But we can see that Jesus is a far superior prophet than Jonah. While Jonah was willing to save his shipmates, he was unwilling to save his enemies. He hated his enemies, and wanted them dead. Jonah was prepared to sacrifice the lives of 120,000 Assyrians to preserve his (and the Israeli) “way of life”.
So who’s the real enemy?
The heart of the gospel is that we are naturally God’s enemies and do not deserve his mercy. Paul says in Romans that the natural mind harbours hatred, enmity, and hostility towards God. And while you and I were still like this, Christ loved us, and died for us. We were like Assyria. We were like ISIS. And how does God treat his enemies?
The Christian story is one of a loving God, dying for his enemies, in order that he might win them over. That he and they might belong as family.
Jesus is the true and better Jonah, who laid down his “way of life” in heaven to join us in our life here on earth. He became like us to save us. Jesus gave his life, in order to win us over: we his enemies. Jesus is the true and better Jonah who loved us while we still hated him, and wanted him dead – in order to save us from the eternal death we deserved.
Team Australia says, “Australian Way of Life. Fit in or F*** Off” or “If you don’t love it, leave”. On the cross, Jesus showed us what loving our enemies looks like: sacrificing our way of life, and serving those who don’t fit in. He shows us by calling “come” to we who didn’t love him or the kingdom he was bringing. Thank God he showed more compassion to us, than we show to our so called enemies. I’m for one glad for the level of compassion showed to me, a self righteous, arrogant, religious do gooder.
Christ’s love for us does not endorse our incorrect ideologies, it does not condone our sin. Loving Muslims can’t be confused with loving Islam. But, It rather sees through our ideologies, and underneath sees a person created in the image of God. In God’s kingdom, we see no Jews, no Greeks, no slaves. God has removed political and social divides.
It is, after all, God’s kindness that draws us to repentance. And we should imitate our father – because we love him: but Perhaps our kindness towards a scared minority group within our communities will draw them to know our loving father too.