The Pouting Preacher: Introduction

Editor's Note: The following is the Introduction to my upcoming The Pouting Preacher: A Guide to Jonah. I solicit your prayers as I wrap up this project. The eBook releases on December 30th an you can pre-order it here for less than $3. - mcw Terror has a new name and face.

Since 9/11, “terrorism” in the U.S. was really just a synonym for al Qaeda or Osama bin Laden. On that bright early autumn day in New York, Washington, and in a Pennsylvania field, we began identifying evil with Arab-looking men wearing turbans or sporting facial hair of some kind. Since the attacks on the World Trade Center, Americans have thought of terrorism as belonging to the borders of Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, or North Korea.

But now terror has a new name and face.

the pouting preacherLike you, I have watched with horror as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has ascended to the international stage as a terrorist organization par excellence. As of June 2014, ISIS reportedly had only 4,000 in their ranks in Iraq, but that number had swelled to 30,000 two months later according to estimates by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. In February 2014, the notorious al Qaeda severed all ties with ISIS because they thought ISIS was too violent and unpredictable.

#ThatAwkwardMomentWhen even al Qaeda thinks you’ve gone too far…

In a move that was unthinkable a generation ago, ISIS militants videoed a ransom message to President Obama while showing the hostage news reporter James Foley bound and kneeling on the ground, awaiting execution. To every viewer’s horror, a member of ISIS in the frame then took a knife and began to sever Foley’s head with the blade. The screen faded to black, only to reopen on a shot of Foley’s decapitated body outstretched, his hand holding his severed head. I’ve seen a lot of war movies in my life, but I was unprepared for this appalling demonstration of cruelty and violence. And this is but one example of their evil. Reports of the kidnapping and rape of women have surfaced all over Iraq. ISIS fighters allegedly so brutally raped some Yezidi girls (a small ethnic minority in northern Iraq) that the young women committed suicide afterward. In a seventeen-day span, ISIS publicly executed a thousand Iraqi civilians and wounded thousands more. Make no mistake—terror has a new name and face.

Roughly 2700 years ago, the name and face of terror was the Assyrian Empire. History tells us that the Assyrians were a cruel and heartless people who thought nothing of burying their enemies alive, skinning them alive, impaling them on sharp poles under the hot sun, and raping the women. Buildings would be razed to the grounds, and salt would be sown in the fields to render them unusable. In one of his battle accounts, Assyrian King Ashurnasirpal II (c. 885–860) boasted, “3000 of their combat troops I felled with weapons … Many of the captives taken from them I burned in a fire. Many I took alive; from some (of these) I cut off their hands to the wrist, from others I cut off their noses, ears and fingers [?]; I put out the eyes of many of the soldiers … I burnt their young men and women to death.” The prophet Nahum corroborates these Assyrian war crimes: “Everyone has felt your endless cruelty” (Nah 3:19 NCV).

The story of the prophet Jonah usually centers on his miraculous stay in the belly of a whale. Liberal scholars and critics of Scripture mock the event as ludicrous and utterly impossible. Others attempt to soften this whale of a tale by saying it is a metaphor or contains until-now-undetected allegories. But what if Jonah’s whale is but a small fish in a larger pond of meaning and relevance. And yes, you may groan at that pun—I couldn’t resist.

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I think it’s sad that the speculation about Jonah’s whale has hijacked the power and relevance of this story, because Jonah is really about a pouting Israelite prophet who preached God’s grace, but had no intention of practicing it himself. Jonah’s story is about our response to the evil and terror in our world—not anger and judgment and bitterness, but love and mercy and a zeal to show grace to those consumed by hate.

If you’re like me, you’ve always been a little hard on Jonah. How dare you run from God—don’t you know better? How dare you scorn these Assyrian sinners—don’t they need grace also? How could you celebrate their demise—don’t you know God loves them too? But we forget that the Assyrians were the ISIS of their day. In every way conceivable, they had turned evil, wickedness, cruelty, and depravity into an art form. So when Jonah was called to carry a message from God to ISIS, I can’t blame him for running to the other side of the world.

That is exactly what I would have done.

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