This seems to be my day for rethinking Bible stories—the over-familiar ones, the ones that appear in every children’s Bible, sometimes watered down beyond recognition, so as not to alarm the kids. Last night I saw our local homeschool co-op's rousing musical rendition of the story of Moses, and earlier, Gabe, my six-year-old, read me a story about Jonah.
We were discussing how Jonah wasn’t fearful that Ninevites would scorn him or ignore him—on the contrary, he was worried that they would respond and repent and be forgiven.
One thing I've tried to instill in even my youngest kids is that we don’t just wish for bad guys to be defeated: we wish for them to turn into good guys. We don’t pray that God should simply remove them from power or give them their just desserts or hurl them into Hell. We pray for their conversion of heart. I want my children to see that as an even more desirable miracle than their sudden disappearance from the face of the earth.
My little ones are not especially docile, but they are definitely kindhearted. They embrace this message, and they regularly pray for certain politicians and others with whom we here at Chez Torres heartily disagree. For months Gabe was a faithful intercessor for one Barack O'Biden, and Juan Diego always remembers to pray for the terrorists.
So they have a hard time understanding why Jonah didn’t just want the Ninevites to repent and live happily ever after.
I sometimes find myself in the uncomfortable position of reluctantly explaining that, well, sometimes when you get older and you've seen people do awful things, you forget to wish their hearts would change and you just want them to get what's coming to them. I don’t know how I would react if someone tried to kill a child of mine, or if I lived in ISIS-controlled territory and somebody put my toddler in a cage and paraded him around before setting him on fire. I doubt a wish for my tormenter's conversion of heart would be the first thing to leap to mind.
So part of the problem is that little children who've had a stable and happy time of it aren't able to conceive of the evils human beings are capable of. The trick is to see how evil the evil is and still wish the evildoer well.
Abby Johnson, who founded And Then There Were None to help abortion workers leave the industry and find healing and practical help, runs into certain people who are not content to let bad guys become good guys. As she relates in a Facebook post:
Recently, an anti-abortion group posted an article talking about a clinic worker who left her job at the abortion industry and is now prolife. There were some VERY hateful comments directed towards this courageous woman who chose to tell her story to help inform others. Many of the comments condemned her to hell, said that God would never forgive her since she was a "cold blooded murderer," and a few even said that she should die for her past sins. (And please don't say they "may have been prochoicers trying to make us look bad." If you haven't seen try vitriol in the prolife movement, then you need to wake up).
ALL life matters. I challenge you to be prolife not just for the innocent, but for the guilty, too....… The prolife movement says that abortion clinic workers dehumanize the baby, and that is true. But the prolife movement has dehumanized these workers, making us no better than them.
Here's what strikes me: "for the guilty, too." So many of us have it in the back of our minds that EITHER you take evil seriously OR you're merciful to evildoers. Or else we have two categories of evildoers firmly fixed in our heads: the people who are guilty of the kind of evils we ourselves find appealing (or trivial), and the kinds who commit evils of which we say "I could never do that." The first deserve mercy and the second don't.
But mercy is by definition undeserved.
And God has no such compartments in His mind.