Jonah is a story of international politics. Jonah is not being commanded to forgive a person who has wronged him personally but is commanded to ask for mercy for another country that has severely wronged his own country. Because the Assyrians pillaged, raped, and destroyed their way through Israel, Jonah wants Israel’s God to exact vengeance and justice on the Assyrians. In the story, Jonah is shown to be in the wrong.
If we are to take the lesson of Jonah seriously and apply the same to our present-day, we too must view international relations through the lens of forgiveness and not retribution. Last month, thirteen U.S. Marines were killed in a suicide attack in Kabul. President Biden, like presidents before him, vowed revenge. In response, Biden launched a drone attack on a suspected hideout for the perpetrators of the killing. The intelligence behind the attack was wrong, and ten innocent Afghanis died including seven children. Here are their pictures. The drone war begun by Bush was increased during Obama and escalated under Trump. If only Jonah has access to a Predator, our story may have ended as Jonah wished.
In his speech after the attack, Biden quotes Isaiah 6:8 “Whom shall I send?” Biden answers the question by saying the U.S. military. The irony of Biden’s misuse of Scripture is that Isaiah’s prophecy (Isa. 7-9) is about the Sign of Emmanual and the Coming of the Prince of Peace who will tell us to forego vengeance and to love our enemies. (Matt. 5-7). Isaiah’s prophecy is about the Assyrians. But like Jonah, America’s invocation of God to kill our enemies is not new. It was only at the beginning of the Cold War with the Soviet Union that the words Under God were added to the Pledge of Allegiance and In God We Trust was made our official motto. God is on our side.
Beginning with St. Augustine in the late 4th century, the Church has developed a Just War Theory to determine when it is morally permissible to destroy our enemies, although there has been some recent reconsideration of the theory. A good discussion from a modern protestant point-of-view is HERE. The issues involved are very difficult and circumstance-specific. But the protection of others is always recognized as a divine function of the state. (Romans 13.)
At the end of Jonah, the question that faces us as Americans is the nature of our violent foreign policy and the motivations behind it. Our foreign policy is being performed in our name, and therefore, its motivations should be our concern. The question that we should always be asking is why is a particular policy being carried out. Is the policy the result of our need to avenge American honor or American deaths, as Jonah advocates, or is the policy rooted in the mercy and loving-kindness of God? Or is this question simply naïve, and Jonah, not God, always should have the last word?
Last Sunday, this opinion article appeared in the New York Times on this issue. The writer, Esau McCaulley, is an ordained ACNA priest and a professor of New Testament at Wheaton College. Although Dr. McCaulley does not address the lesson in Jonah specifically, his argument is directly related to our story. I commit this article to you.