And Justice for SOME

We humans are a funny bunch. We love to talk about fairness and justice and everybody getting what they deserve – just as long as we get to decide just what that means.

Image © Jeff Preston from

Image © Jeff Preston from

Jonah is a prime example. God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh and tell the folks there that if they don’t make some big changes, He’s going to destroy the whole place. Jonah’s response is to hop on a ship going as far in the other direction as possible. Why? Because he’s afraid to give them the bad news? Nope, because he knows that if the Ninevites actually do repent and change things around, God won’t punish them.

Huh. Why do you think Jonah was so anti-Ninevite?

The Bible doesn’t tell us much about it. Did a bully from Nineveh beat Jonah up and take away his lunch money every day? Did he get his heart broken by a Ninevite girl? Whatever it was, Jonah wanted them to get the punishment he thought they deserved – whether or not they repented.

Part of it may have been just plain, old-fashioned bigotry – those folks from Nineveh weren’t like the people around whom Jonah grew up. He didn’t know anything about them except what he’d heard – and what he’d heard was all bad.
Does that kind of prejudice affect the way we decide today who gets the chance to hear about salvation and who doesn’t? Do we have prejudices grown out of ignorance or past experiences that keep us from exposing certain groups of people to God’s mercy?

Harvard has put out the “Implicit Association Test,” or IAT.  It’s a test that attempts to answer certain questions about prejudice. The makers of this test aren’t looking to see if a person is or is not prejudiced. They assume that everyone favors one group of people over another, and that is what they are measuring. Taking the IAT and receiving my results was very interesting – not at all what I expected.

According to Clayton McCleskey’s article in The Wall Street Journal, our biases can be based solely on a person’s accent.

“Most of us like to assume that we’re enlightened, tolerant, and unprejudiced people. Unfortunately, a new study reveals many of us have a hidden bias against anyone with a foreign accent. … ‘The further from native-sounding an accent is, the harder we have to work, and the less trustworthy we perceive the information to be.’ It gets worse: ‘Researchers found that the heavier the accent, the more skeptical participants became.’ In other words, if it sounds like you’re not from around here, my suspicion radar is on high alert. My bias about you isn’t based on your character; it’s based on the fact that you talk ‘different.’

“The researchers want to reassure us that we’re not really racist or prejudiced (thank goodness). Apparently, we’re just lazy. Well, again they don’t want to pass judgment: we’re not actually lazy; our brains are lazy. In the researcher’s words, ‘Our brains prefer the path of least resistance.’

“That seems like a nice way to say that, despite our best intentions, we all have pockets of prejudice and bias. In biblical terms, we show favoritism toward people who resemble us. Perhaps this study shows why we need Jesus’ help to uproot our partiality and love people who don’t resemble us, especially people from different racial, ethnic or national groups.”1

So, to what extent are our prejudices shaping our ministry? Think about it – I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t support a mission trip to some third world country, but what about ministering to inmates in our county jails or state and federal prisons. What about sharing Jesus with the folks who live in homeless shelters, or the ones who aren’t lucky enough to live in a shelter. How many of us have considered ministering to the intellectually and/or physically challenged?
Paul reminds us that every human is the same in Jesus’ eyes.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28

“God desires that we should have tender, sanctified regard one for another, and as dear children in his family, we need to have the pure love of Christ. O, shall not the seed that produces roots of bitterness and unseemly fruit be banished from our hearts, that we may cherish the heavenly plant of love? As mature Christians we shall love more and more, not less and less. We need the warmth and glow of Christ in our cold, stony hearts. We want our hearts broken by the love of Christ, and then we shall defend the characters of those who are giving their lives to the service of him who has died for them. We shall not then act the part of accusers, and treat our brethren and their labors as worthless. Let us daily pray that we may be led to a higher plane of thought and living, that we may love in sincerity and Christlike deeds.” (E.G. White, Review and Herald, October 24, 1893)

It’s important to remember that we aren’t the ones who decide who needs/deserves forgiveness. Technically, no one deserves mercy or forgiveness, but we all need it! And no matter who we are, or what we’ve done, Jesus died to make sure it’s there if we want it.

“But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Romans 3:21-26

Even at the end of the book of Jonah, Jonah is still bitter about having to share God’s mercy with the people of Nineveh. He reminds me of the Prodigal Son’s big brother.

“Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’

“But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’

“And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’” Luke 15:25-31

Let’s not be like either Jonah or that older brother. Jesus died so that we could all spend eternity with Him. Let’s not miss it!

  1. Clayton M. McCleskey, “Accentuating Bias,” The Wall Street Journal (10-2-10)


And Justice for SOME — 8 Comments

  1. Yes, no human is unbiased and that’s okay. God understands that. I admire Jonah’s self-respect, self-love and confidence. He respectfully stood up to God, the maker of Heaven and Earth, the sea and the springs of water. Jonah is his own man. I think God admires that. He gave us mind, intelligence, free-will precisely for this reason: to independently take stand on issues that surround us and to own it. I don’t think God works with someone who loves/obeys him blindly like a monkey or a well-trained dog. Moses is another prime example. He has a hot tempered personality which he doesn’t apologize for. He loved his people and His God but he is also anchored in his own personality and His principles. Well, that’s also the personality of God, if you think about it. He emptied Heaven to save us but we don’t see him sweating to please us superficially on a daily basis (i.e., being “nice” to us.) He loves us deeply but not to the point He compromises His principles to please us or to save us in our sins (not from.)

    I once fell in love with this one girl a long time ago to the point I lost myself. All I could think is her. I think about her before I sleep and after I wake up. It was pathetic. I loved her but I wasn’t anchored in my own self. I had no self-respect and self-love and self-worth. Probably why she let me down lol. OH well, that was then. I’m now a different person. In retrospect, God sent her precisely to teach me that; the same way He wanted Jonah to learn about himself. Self-awareness is a critical component for self-improvement. God is indeed awesome. He killed two birds with one stone in the book of Jonah: teach His prophet valuable lesson while saving a non-Hebrew nation from their sins. Good Lord, I know You’re reading this, I love and appreciate You. Thank you for being who You are!!!

    • some well thought idea's, thank you for sharing. As men we dont forget lessons learnt from relationships... with women. God will use whatever tool he has to get to us. Sadly i was struggling to eliminate sins in my life, i married the girl of my dreams. I constantly failed to change for God, but for my wife, the girl of my dreams i could. Love will change us, we cannot hurt the person we love. God was thinking what can i do to get to him...ahhh haaa. The way God works is amazing. Its hard to understand sometimes. One of many blessings, we are all equal, if he did it for me, yes he will do it for you. Your salvation is what he wants, if this is truly what you want than he will make it happen.

    • Newton,I think you identified quite correctly our Father's desire to give the highest respect to every individual. That is in fact the very reason why He gave us the right of self-determination; knowing that we are not given a choice to be born; but once here, we certainly have total freedom to choose the principle of God's love to live eternally, or choose to exit for the sake of our unique self-love.

      Every person since the fall of Adam, has been born in sin and formed in iniquity; which means we are birthed with a self-concept and self-love that is alien to the love of God. I think you picked up on this dilemma of self-respect and self-love that is quite evident in the Book of Jonah.

      Jonah's self-love could not correlate or relate to the love of God which generously forgives and saves others, when a person repents. Instead of discussing his personal dilemma with God, or his Counselor, Jonah ran away, heading for Spain, the farthest port of the Mediterranean Sea. This is a very strange form of self-preservation of his self-love and self-respect, considering he was willing to be thrown overboard, in a storm; which is not self-preservation, but more akin to the dilemma of suicide. Jonah's problem was not the fear of death, but the fear of looking bad - the perception of threat in the loss of self (self value/self worth, self respect, self identity). Death was more attractive than public disgrace. Born in sin is one and the same as self-hate, offering an illusion of self-love that is not founded on the love of God.

      Lack of surrender to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in one who is called by God to preach/witness is a strange dilemma. It is the unconverted Peter protesting that he would die for Jesus Christ, but within a few hours he was cursing and swearing that he did not know Jesus -- cowardice driving self-love and self-preservation, on a psychological level. A transformed Peter, after weeks of prayer, and the touch of the Holy Spirit, preached with self-respect, a self-love embedded in the love of Jesus Christ, and a confidence that caused haters to wonder: "they took note of (him) that (he) had been with Jesus". That is the power of God's love. We Jonahs who are scared and running, dutifully preaching/witnessing but threatened by the blessings of God's mercy to others, angry with God for being consistent in loving all, including our enemies, can do with a good dose of His transforming love. I praise Him.

  2. Excellent article! The first paragraph nails it, It also reminds me of David, many times he would ask God to punish his enemies. However, when he sinned or wronged others its hard to find him repeatedly asking for a punishment on himself. We are biased. And many times see only our point of view.
    Im sure there are many lessons to learn from the prodigal son, one idea is that he was angry because really he wanted to do some of the things his brother did. maybe. But i think it was his sense of justice and fairness not being played out. Sadly i would feel the same if i was in the situation, however i think his fathers words would have calmed me down. Its important to get credit for hard work

  3. Lillian, thank you for an impressive discourse on personal bias and prejudice. The angle you took from the book of Jonah seems well thought through as it relates to human behavior in relationships, probably even growing out of personal experiences. From the standpoint that you connect social behavior to Jonah's early reticence and later anger, it makes sense that you saw a parallel in the older brother of the prodigal son.

    Did Jonah run away, even preferring rather to be dead (by drowning) than to see those people saved? That seems far more radical a prejudice than you even imagined. You mean that a prophet of God had that kind of deep down hate for a people, yet God picked him to be the Preacher?

    I think that, what some call homiletic license, bringing our own interpretation based on social behavior to the Bible can run us into interesting dilemmas. The Bible describes Jonah's motive as relating to God's motives and actions rather than to human behavior. He was angry with God, based on Who God is. History also raises questions for us:

    The King of Assyria at that time owned what is considered to be the greatest Library of ancient times -- a brilliant scholar who stirred the jealousy and competition (to the point of war) from King Neco of Egypt. Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, later Alexander the Great of Greece, and later still Caesar Augustus of Rome borrowed from the philosophy of this King. An openness in philosophy would hardly be the basis for such rabid prejudicial hatred.

    Most suppose that the writing of Jonah preceded the Assyrian captivity of Israel. Would that be a basis for a fearful Jonah, choosing to run away? Not based on the Book of Jonah.

    If Jonah's preaching is spliced between the first and second captivity of Israel, that raises questions at who actually might the King of the city of Nineveh be, and who the intended audience of the city might be. If he preached after the second captivity, even more interesting.

    Sticking to a Biblical interpretation rather than an interpretation based on social behavior seems to look like this: Jonah's pride, not prejudice, could not handle looking bad when his word failed, since he already anticipated that a forgiving God will save Nineveh should they choose to repent. He could not rejoice in salvation, because his message was only a damnation message. He knew that God was love, and forgiving, and will forbear following the repentance of even 5 persons. If only Jonah understood, personally in his heart, the love of God, so that he more clearly understood the message he was sent to give, he would have basis to celebrate -- with the people.

    From a social standpoint, the older brother of the prodigal was right. His brother was a bum who did not work, and felt entitled to inheritance from his father's and brother's hard work, even before his father died. Easy come, easy go, he blew half of their life's work. He had every right to hang his head when he came home in rags and really looking like he was eating out of a non-Jewish trash can during a famine. The older son had a legitimate complaint. However, a Father's and Mother's love trumped the younger son's nasty behavior and condition, and just loved him back home. Older son still had to catch up with parent's love. God is our Daddy. He loves and saves bums too. Saves (not condones). Jesus was likening us to the bum.

  4. This is exactly why I refrain from conspiracy theories and from pointing out who is Illuminati and who is a Satan worshiper, and who is this or that. When we SDAs do that, we are basically writing people off. Whatever happened to preaching the gospel and letting God do his thing? Or do we believe that these world-famous people, who we think are going to bring on the New World Order, outside of God's grace and beyond the reach of the Holy Spirit? Will we, like Jonah, be disappointed (or skeptical), if we see one of these people repent and embrace the gospel truths?

  5. The only one I am to judge is myself. (1 Corinthians 11:31) and throw myself on God 's mercy. I am to lay down my life for another ( 1 John 3:16).

  6. Thank you, Lillian, for the perspective in this article. Our minds do protest because they do not want the extra work it takes to communicate with those who need more effort in communicating. We sense the extra effort and do not feel like making that effort. I need to stay connected with Jesus so that His love and power can reach out when my body and mind are weak. He always reaches out to me!! and makes the effort to help me! PTL!


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