We never discussed this at length in class, but there have been several lectures with Dr. Falk wherein the Book of Jonah has come into the discussion. I’ve read the book only a handful of times, but I’m familiar with the basic storyline: Jonah is called to preach to the rebellious city of Nineveh, doesn’t want to, gets swallowed by a fish, pops out three days later, and then preaches to Nineveh and sees them repent at his message. Of course there probably some details I’m leaving out, but what caught my attention today was a mixture of things: Luke 11:29-32 and Dr. Falk’s interpretation of Jonah.
It was during my freshman year, taking his Intro to the Bible class, that I first heard an alternative outlook to Jonah. Up until that point my understanding of the text had been very surface level; Jonah’s three days spent in the belly of a fish was to foreshadow Jesus’ three days spent in the tomb. Nineveh’s repentance was to likewise foreshadow the repentance of the Gentiles (at least, as far as I understood it anyway). What Dr. Falk suggested in one lecture was quite surprising to my surface-level understanding of the text. What he suggested was that Jonah’s book may have functioned more rhetorically than literally. It’s central message? It was telling the people of Israel that if God so chose to forgive such a nation as the Ninevites, then Israel had no option but to be okay with that.
Honestly, Falk’s perspective isn’t necessarily a contrary opinion of Jonah; all of these elements could be there in the text at the same time (i.e. foreshadowing of the 3-days in the grave, repentance of the Gentiles, and – what I got from Falk – rebuke of religious self-righteousness). It just came as a significant difference, though, when the only interpretation I had been exposed to was the foreshadowing of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection (the 3-days thing). When I was reading through Luke 11 earlier today, I tried to think of Jesus’ reference to the “sign” not in terms of the 3-days’ thing, but in terms of the rebuke of religious self-righteousness.
Last night I watched a small video clip from one of Mark Driscoll’s latest sermons about heaven and hell. Yes, he and Mars Hill are currently working through the Gospel of Luke verse by verse and it just so happened that the topic became heaven and hell. But clearly – at least indicated from the video clip – this was in response to the Rob Bell drama. In the wake of watching this video clip, I wrote out a blog post. I read a lot of Scripture (specifically dealing with heaven and hell language) and was ready to argumentatively dismantle certain comments on the video. And then I read through Luke 11 in light of Falk’s view. I deleted the 1,500-word post.
Perhaps Jesus isn’t just referring to His death, resurrection, and the repentance of the Gentiles. Perhaps He’s also saying, “Take a lesson from Jonah; his self-righteousness hindered him from having the heart of God.” Whether we’re right about hell being an eternal place of conscious punishment or not is irrelevant; what is relevant is whether or not we’re willing to subject ourselves to God’s sovereignty. If He decides that certain people are righteous even though we don’t think they are, who are we to really say anything different?
Like the ancient Jews reading through the book of Jonah, perhaps we need to be reminded that – especially with the often heated discussion of heaven and hell – it’s God who has sovereignty; not our doctrines, dogmas, and systematic theologies. Christ didn’t die so that we could be Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes all over again; He died to liberate us from that pathetically-religious mindset. He came so that we could truly have abundant life.