Systemic Racism – A Lesson From The Book of Jonah

A lesson from Jonah

Today, many people contend that systemic racism continues to exist in our communities and within our Christian congregations.  Racism can be defined as what makes some people see others with suspicion or to attribute negative characteristics to an entire group of people. This type of evil manifests itself in many peoples’ individual thoughts, and also in the workings of our society itself.   Many people today protest that what they perceive as continuing inequalities in education, housing, employment, wealth, and representation in leadership positions are rooted in what they believe is America’s shameful history of slavery and systemic racism.

There is no argument that during the 1950s and 1960s, black Americans fiercely struggled to gain equal rights under the law in the United States.  However, people seeing others with suspicion or attributing negative characteristics to an entire group of people did not originate in American history.

The Book of Jonah

Referencing the Bible, the book of Jonah can shed some light on the subject of the deep rooted history of groups of people seeing others with suspicion or attributing negative characteristics to an entire group of people.

Jonah prophesied during the reign of Jeroboam II (2 Kings 14:23–28), who ruled in Israel (the northern kingdom) from 782 to 753 B.C.  Jeroboam was the grandson of Jehoahaz, who ruled in Israel from 814 to 798 b.c. Because of the sins of Jehoahaz, Israel was oppressed by the Arameans; Which basically, amounted to a family feud fueled by suspicion and different beliefs. (2 Kings 13:3)

The Arameans and many of the people of Israel, lived in a city called Nineveh. Around 1000 B.C. there occurred a great revival of Assyrian power, and Nineveh became a royal city. It was a thriving city during the first half of the first millennium, and contained such luxuries as public squares, parks, botanical gardens, and even a zoo. Nineveh, was situated at the confluence of the Tigris and Khosr rivers which is now known as modern-day Mosul, Iraq.

The book of Jonah begins with, “Now the word of the Lord came to a Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.  But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.” (Jonah 1-3)

A Second Chance

Jonah, who after being subjected to God’s wrath (thrown in to the sea (Jonah 1:14-15) was swallowed up by a whale (Jonah 1:17).  While in the whales belly, Jonah prays that,  “I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me, out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice.  For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me. Then I said, ‘I am driven away from your sight; yet I shall again look upon your holy temple.’ The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head into your holy temple. Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love. But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the Lord!” (Jonah 2:2-9)

It is obvious by Jonah’s own words that he felt that going to Nineveh to help save the Arameans, was a fate worse than his being subjected to God’s wrath.   

Jonah, after being given a second chance, reluctantly went to Nineveh and did what God had instructed him to do.  (Jonah 3:3-5). After hearing God’s command, the Arameans repented and changed their behavior, (Jonah 3:10) yet Jonah could not get past seeing others with suspicion or attributing negative characteristics to an entire group of people.   

Jonah was so wrapped up in his hatred against the Arameans that he again prayed to God, saying “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and a relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4:1-3)

Jonah, a man who found favor and arguably had a good relationship with God, could not get past attributing negative characteristics to an entire group of people.  His hatred for the Arameans was so deep that he felt it was ‘better for [him] to die than to live’ with God having shown mercy for the Arameans.

God Is Not Partial

The Bible tells us that, “I now truly understand that God does not show favoritism, but welcomes those from every nation who fear Him and do what is right.…” (Acts 10:33)

Certainly, God is not partial.  (Deut. 10:17). 

The book of Jonah teaches us that God, does not look upon and entire group of people for the sins of some of the group.  Furthermore, learning from God’s answer to Jonah’s request to die, we must ask ourselves,  “Is it right for you to be angry?” (Jonah 4:4)  No, it is not right for us to see others with suspicion or attributing negative characteristics to an entire group of people

Today, the Christian movement for social reform has has made a lot of progress in our nation steering away from the racial hatred American’s experienced in the 1950s and 1960s.   Gods compassion and mercy upon us all has resulted in a lot of people turning away from hating others, simply because of their race and or beliefs.   

A Lesson from God

Jonah, a man of God, fell victim to allowing Satan to plant a deep seated hatred for a group of people in his heart.  He became so angry that he fled from God.  Before we find ourself fleeing from God, let us never forget how easy it is, for even people who consider themselves favored by God, to fall in to the sin of hating others.  We must asks ourselves daily, do I see others with suspicion or do I attribute negative characteristics to an entire group of people?