'Us' and 'Them'

written by Mike McHargue Have you ever heard the story of Jonah? He's a prophet in the first part of the Bible, and God told him to go talk to people in a city called Nineveh. He didn't want to go, so he got on a boat and sailed the other direction. The story tells us a storm came, and Jonah ended up in the belly of a fish for three days. This experience convinces Jonah to follow God's directions, and he's freed from the fish's stomach.

Jonah walks into Nineveh and announces the city will be destroyed by God in 40 days. The story takes an amazing turn here because the people of Ninevah accept this prophecy. They go into mourning, and they change their ways. God responds by holding back his judgement.

I was talking to some friends a couple of weeks ago about this story. My friend Cathi was talking about how that story changed for her over time. As a kid, she was captivated by the idea of Jonah sitting in the belly of a fish for three days. As she grew, the story became less about a fish and more about listening to God and following his directions. I had a similar growth in understanding about the story of Jonah. Unlike me, Cathi's understanding of this story grew deeper.

Jonah's story is also about prejudice. Jonah gets angry after God spares Nineveh. In fact, Jonah tells God that he's so angry he could die. In his anger, Jonah explains that he didn't want to go to Nineveh because he knew God would redeem the people there.

Jonah hated Nineveh. He didn't want them to be saved.

There is this idea of in-group bias In neuropsychology. Humans are hard-wired to identify their tribe. Incredible favoritism sets once that tribe is identified. The in-group has a flip side: for there to be an in-group, there must be an out-group. We see this manifest itself in a lot of ways, but the most recognizable example in modern society is racism. In people who were not exposed to racial diversity as a child, the brain responds differently to people of different races. It's quick, and we certainly have the power to overcome that reaction.

God teaches Jonah that this group of people Jonah despises are loved by God. Jonah's natural, completely human reaction is, "us versus them." Jonah's "them" was the people of Ninevah. Jonah didn't want his "them" to be redeemed. He didn't want "them" to be near to God like he was.

Who's your them?

Who is the people group you can't accept, and that you deem unworthy of God's grace and mercy?

Is it black people? Asian people? White people?

Republicans? Democrats? Both?

Lesbians? Gays? Homophobes?

Atheists? Evangelicals? Muslims?

Hypocrites? Felons? Child Molesters?

Gun nuts? Gun control advocates?

Maybe your them is the guy who cut you off in traffic this morning, or your boss, or someone who hurt you very deeply.

Is there a person or people in your life that make you angry when they come to mind? Someone who you deem unworthy of God's love?

Jonah's story ends with God saying, "You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?"

Who's your "them"? It may be on you to tell them of God's love.


Mike McHargue is a writer, technologist, and CTO of the Zimmerman Agency.

Mike explores "how science, technology and faith work together to smash conventional wisdom."

Find him at mikemchargue.com, twitter @mikemchargue, facebook