This post is inspired by Jonah 1:7-17.
As a campus ministry leader, one of the biggest things I see on my campus is that students are struggling with judgment, hate, or just allowing their opinions on politics or social issues to drive their emotions and reactions. In doing so, they fail to realize that their actions and words impact others. At our campus, we just finished up a series on the life of Jonah, and one of the biggest takeaways that our students walked away with was that their actions matter.
We talked about how we see that, in this season of his life, Jonah allowed the idols of “judgment and hate” to drive him. His hate and indifference towards Nineveh drove him to make choices that impacted not just him but others, too. His disdain and disregard for a people drove him to directly disobey God and to put others at risk.
Jonah was driven by hate. See, he didn’t just dislike the Ninevites; he hated the Ninevites. We see this in the text because, instead of repenting on the deck of the boat, he risked dying by being tossed overboard. Jonah didn’t know that God’s grace was waiting for Him in the water. He refused to even consider repenting here, AND when he finally does go, he grumbles and complains and is so upset that God is compassionate to the Ninevites that he just wants to die. Now, that is hate.
In fact, Jonah did not say anything when he got up on deck and did not pray to God as the captain asked. Jonah knew what was going on and didn’t volunteer any information. He was putting the sailors at risk! What we do and say or not say always impacts others. As Jonah was driven by his disdain, judgmental attitude, and desire to control the situation, his actions and words (or lack of words) affected not just him but the sailors and the Ninevites. His disobedience impacted him and those around him, delaying others from hearing the good news!
You see, our choices matter. Our obedience and disobedience never just involves us. We are created to be in community, whether we choose it or not, so all our choices do impact those around us directly and indirectly. Jonah is not unique in this. It’s the same for us. Do you make your decisions for actions or words based on the impact to yourself or on how it will impact others? Do you allow your own judgments and prejudices to drive your choices and your reactions to what Christ calls us to do? How do you react when God asks you to do something that makes you uncomfortable or that you’re just flat out against? Jonah finally made the right choice, but there were consequences that God didn’t take away. However, He did provide grace.
Our challenge to our students is this: Do we allow our own prejudices, judgments, and hate to dictate our actions and obedience? Who do you hate? God’ s not always going to ask us to go to the place or people we struggle with … but He might. The big picture here is that loving our neighbor—no matter who they are or what they believe or what issue they champion or what political party they promote or what past sin they committed—means sharing with them the truth of the grace of Jesus and giving them grace as He would. This is the most powerful thing in the world!
We challenged our students to start to be kinder and connect with those whom they disagree, that they might hold prejudices against, or those that might be politically opposed to. We asked them to look at who they need to start praying about changing their attitude towards and to not be like Jonah. Because, honestly, no one wants to end up in the belly of a whale or smelling like a fish for the next week!
Sarah Farley is a campus minister at the University of Georgia. She loves talking about Jesus, SEC football, eating burgers and drinking coffee with students.