Who Knows What God Will Do?

"Our challenge is to do the uncomfortable but necessary work of calling out injustices anywhere and everywhere that we see them and to trust God for what happens after that."

Jonah 3:6-10 (CEB, Common English Bible)
When word of it reached the king of Nineveh, he got up from his throne, stripped himself of his robe, covered himself with mourning clothes, and sat in ashes. Then he announced, “In Nineveh, by decree of the king and his officials: Neither human nor animal, cattle nor flock, will taste anything! No grazing and no drinking water! Let humans and animals alike put on mourning clothes, and let them call upon God forcefully! And let all persons stop their evil behavior and the violence that’s under their control!” He thought, Who knows? God may see this and turn from his wrath, so that we might not perish.10 God saw what they were doing—that they had ceased their evil behavior. So God stopped planning to destroy them, and he didn’t do it.
Reading this through the lens of marginalized people who are under an oppressive system that steps on the necks of the poor, I must be honest and say that initially I found myself in a posture of a predicament as to the reason for the quick willingness of this king’s decision to come down off his throne with the intent of turning from his wicked ways.  
                  The text says that the king acted as soon as word reached him, this is, after the people were moved to action based on believing God and believing that their city would be overthrown as Jonah had prophesied. The king got off his seat of the throne and stripped himself of his robe, which seems to suggest that he disavowed himself of self-aggrandizing power and surrendered to Sovereign Power. Is it that the preached word pricked his heart and changed him?
                 Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, the nation that destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel and that held the southern kingdom of Israel as a vassal, meaning in a subordinate and oppressive system, for almost one hundred years. It’s a city that knew firsthand the magnitude of destructive forces because its' king and leaders had been behind such treacherous acts against God’s chosen people of Israel. And now the tables were turned and quite frankly – they weren’t sure what their life would look life in the aftermath of the impending forty days. They were warned and put on notice. They took the word serious enough that it caused a real noticeable change in behavior. What would it look like if we each examined our own participation in injustices against God and then moved quickly to repent?
              In the king’s exclamation of who knows what God will do, I initially wondered if announcing that every person and animal must go on a fast, and adorn themselves with mourning attire of sackcloth, including the animals, was really genuine? When he says to forcefully call upon the name of God, which here in the Hebrew is Elohim, meaning Creator and Judge of the Universe, is it because he authentically acknowledges the evil of privilege? Or maybe it’s because when you open yourself to the grace of God, you are transformed by the word of God!
Jonah brought a word that caused the king to decree that “let all persons stop their evil behavior and the violence that is under their control.” I don’t know - sorta like suggesting that teachers in a classroom ought to be armed with guns rather than Congress taking legislative action on gun reform. It’s a message to us to do the same thing: challenge the ones who oppress us. Challenge them with the word of God. Churches especially should challenge our so-called leaders in a loud prophetic voice to come down off the throne of their institutionalized and systemic racist structures that stigmatize, dehumanize and subjugate anyone who doesn’t fit the profile of patriarchy. After all, who knows what God will do!
              Who knows what God will do when we work collectively to dismantle racism, patriarchy and other oppressive structures that place immigrants, low wage earners, black women and other marginalized persons in economic hardships. This message is about the abuse of those in power who wield their control around like a loaded cannon, firing foolishness that force the poor into hellish impoverished situations by denying them the benefits of food stamps to choose their own food and instead proposing boxed goods delivered to them that they wouldn’t even feed to their dogs. Injustice against poor people is a sin against God.
I believe God is issuing a prophetic word today that if the people of our modern-day Ninevehs do not change from their evil ways, those great cities are sure to be destroyed – by their own actions of entitlement and privilege. And finally, the text says that Elohim saw what they were doing, that they had ceased their evil behavior and God stopped planning to destroy them and didn’t do it. Could it be that God’s love and mercy for the Ninevehites are akin to a nurturing mother, who no matter how out of line her children act, she wants only the best for them and will give them a chance to get it right, repent and act like they have some home training and remember whose they are and whose name they are carrying? Our challenge is to do the uncomfortable but necessary work of calling out injustices anywhere and everywhere that we see them and to trust God for what happens after that. We are the prophetic voice that brings the word but God is the Powerful Vehicle that transforms the people… through the word, because when evil is fearful enough to get off the throne, who knows what God will do! 


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