Jonah – A call to cry out for gays in Singapore & Malaysia
Aug 31, 2006. The Malaysian 49 th Independence day or Merdeka is coming soon. Earlier on 09 Aug 2006, Singapore also celebrated its independence day. The PMs of the respective countries would recall history and the struggles against the British establishment to gain independence. For Singapore, it was exiled from the commonwealth of Malaya and without much resource it had to survive. For Singapore, its weaknesses became its strength, and 40 years later it is a first world country. Malaysia and Singapore came out of their closet from the British and have thrived as a result. They have struggled for independence and fought hard against their British rulers. When will Gays have their independence day when we can come out of our closets and reclaim our destiny and future as who we are? There is a call to rise up and be a voice for Gays, the voice for independence.
God has called many to be a voice for the closeted, those who cannot speak for themselves, to speak the word of God to the nations that God loves all man irrespective of their sexual orientation. Many of have not heeded the calling because it cost a lot. They have known much abuse and discrimination and now God is calling them to go beyond the four walls of the church to move out. In the bible, God called Jonah to preach to a nation that had been persecuting Israel. Jonah saw the expansion of Israel, the northern Jewish Kingdom. But within a couple of decades, the Assyrians had all but destroyed his nation with only Samaria remaining and even that with its population enslaved and transported to Assyria to avoid any nationalistic uprising. Jonah had every valid reason to see Assyria destroyed for the many thousands of deaths it had caused. Is it wrong to demand justice?
The Assyria, was ancient Iraq, located in Babylonia along the banks of the Tigris River (Gen. 2:14) in northern Mesopotamia. It derived its name from Asshur, its first capital, founded in 2000 B.C. Other cities such as Calah and Nineveh, appears in Genesis 10:11-12. During the reign of Tiglath-pileser III (744-727 B.C.), he made changes in the administration of conquered territories. Nations close to the Assyrian homeland were incorporated as provinces. Others were left with native rule, but subject to an Assyrian overseer. Massive deportations were common to reduce local nationalistic feelings. In 2 Kings 15:19, when Tiglath-Pileser, arrived on the coast of Phoenicia, and King Menahem of Israel brought tribute and became vassals of Assyria. However, they soon formed an anti-Assyrian alliance. Israel and Aram-Damascus attacked Jerusalem about 735 B.C. in an attempt to deposed King Ahaz of Judah (2 Kings 16:2-6; Isa. 7:1-6). Ahaz appealed to Tiglath-pileser for assistance (2 Kings 16:7-9). who responded and defeated Israel (2 Kings 15:29; 733 B.C.). Tiglath-pileser's successor, Shalmaneser V (726-722 B.C.), besieged Samaria for three years in response to Hoshea's failure to pay tribute (2 Kings 17:3-5).
In the midst of this civil war and invasion, was born Jonah or ‘dove”, a prophet of God during the reign of Jeroboam II (785-745 BC) as mentioned in 2 Kings 14;23-29 where Jonah prophesied on the expansion of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Soon however, this kingdom was destroyed by Assyria, a very vicious and cruel nation who transported many Israelites to foreign lands, maybe even Jonah’s friends or family. The patience of God ran out with this people, His grace and mercy exhausted. So, in a final word of warning, God called Jonah to cry out God’s judgment against Nineveh, the capital of Assyria. Instead of being delighted, so much was Jonah’ hatred of this city which symbolizes the Assyrian nation that he went in the opposite direction, and not only that, but to the outermost city known to the Jews, to Tarnish, a port in Southern Spain. This is more than 7,000 km away from God’s intended destination. Jonah was not only fleeing away from Nineveh, in not following God’s instruction, he was trying to flee away from the presence of God.
In a detour and journey through storm and finally inside the stomach of a great fish, Jonah finally repented and sought the presence of God in his life. It was the grace and mercy of God that brought him from the deepest depths of sin and denial against God, being baptized as it were and arisen a new man, a man after God’s heart. God’s grace and mercy was made possible by Jesus who died just like Jonah and spent three days and nights in hell and arose on the third day. (Mat 12:40). Jonah’s redemption by the big fish was a miracle just like Jesus’ resurrection. The gospel of Matthew acknowledges the miracle but went on to declare the stubbornness of the law abiding Jews was so great they could not see Jesus and were even worse than the Assyrians!. Jonah was a Jew, a prophet. In his view of God formed through the commandments, there was little room for grace nor mercy. Jonah was angry against Assyria and rightfully and morally had every right to insist God for its destruction. Jonah could not see God’s grace and mercy, and refused to even consider that he may be wrong by going to Nineveh. We have many fundamentalist Christians who fail not to talk about law and sin, but when faced with the strong arguments or revelation from God for possibility that homosexuality may not be a biblical sin, they refused to consider it. Shutting their ears and minds from God’s voice, they run away from the truth. For the truth has incredible significance. In the case of Jonah, it was the possibility that God would be so good that He could forgive Assyria. However, in the case of fundamentalist Christians, any recognition would mean that they have sinned greatly and have been a great caused of harm and hurt and a negative testimony for the Gospel of Christ.
How did Jonah made a u-turn in his attitude, beliefs and theology, from a law orientated believer eager to judge and condemn, to one understanding God’s grace and mercy? God never changed. If the Assyrians had not repented, they would have been destroyed. God is not only love, but also of righteousness and justice which demands Him to act for justice even though He loved mercy. Many liberal preachers could only see God's love and not God’s righteousness hence err in believing that there is no hell or that all religions may lead to God. But Jonah was the opposite; he was a “Christian” fundamentalist. What made him changed? It was death. In the middle of the ocean, at the depths when death seem eminent and indeed deserving in this case for Jonah have willfully sinned against God, even if Jonah repented, would God forgave him? for surely like the Assyrians he need to “pay” for his sins. It was the grace and mercy of God that redeemed Jonah from death that resulted in a change of heart. Just as God gave him a second change, in this forgiveness, Jonah found the motivation to forgive the Assyrians and went on to proclaim the good news of salvation to this nation.
Three thousand years later, the story of Jonah has long been forgotten by their modern day descendents of Syria and Iraq. These nations just like Assyria of old remained Israel’s greatest antagonists. But God is merciful waiting for these nation to come back to Him. It is not that God “permit” the ruthlessness and evil of Syria and Iraq sending terrorists to Israel, rather, His grace and mercy constraints Him. He hears the cries of those killed by the regimes, yet God is slow to judge. But with each side calling for revenge killing there will be no end to violence. The bible beseeched us in Romans 12:1, to present our bodies as living sacrifices to God. This talks about death, death to ourselves and inherent prejudices that we may hear the voice of God and delight in His presence. The problem with fundamentalist Christianity is self righteousness because the self has not died hence sin still rules despite all their effort to follow God’s law and be sinless. Without understanding that we are a new creation by Jesus death and resurrection and not by our self effort, there will not be a victory and we are no different that a pagan sinner and perhaps much worst because we think we are righteous and mandated by God to carry out justice. Just like Jonah, we have walked opposite to the call of God to carry the mandate of God’s love through the Gospel which is inherently and specifically inclusive of Gays.
The story of Jonah happened over 3000 years ago, and from another culture and distance from Singapore. Many even deny the historical existence of this story. But the radical message of mercy and grace contained therein, so contrary to the prevailing culture and justice, cannot be but inspired by God to reveal His Son Jesus Christ. Jonah was a real person, and the events did happened. What is Jonah to Singapore? We have our own big fish, a hybrid between a lion and a fish but alas it does not eat humans. The story of Jonah reminds us to be slow to judge and quick to have mercy for much grace and mercy has been given to us. As we just celebrated national day, much has been said of what Singaporeans and what their leaders has achieved from a dengue invested swampy port to a first world nation. It is all about how well we have done and truly we deserved to be proud of what we have achieved through hard work. However, we may have forgotten, how fortunate we were and how great God been to Singapore. If China had not succumbed to communism in the 1950s, what a different past would Singapore have experienced. Let us remember that God’s hand was with Singapore. We were outcast by Malaysia. Never should we forget that. Therefore, we should not ourselves make outcast any groups in our society such as Gays. They are Singaporeans too.
Sadly Gays have been persecuted again with much pressure applied at venues for Indignation Gay pride month. Singapore’s religious Christian conservatives have been a major force in the Anglican's communion Global South grouping against Gays. Let us be mindful of God’s grace and mercy that we need not go through as a nation the death experience that Jonah went through in order to realize our dependence upon God. It was a terrible experience when we will be stripped naked and faced great lack. Surely, we need to repent before it is too late! For the cry of anguish to God from gays just like the call of anguish by the Israelites to God because of the Assyrians are becoming louder and louder. A time of change is coming when justice for Gays shall prevail whether we like it or not, for the hand of God is moving for change. It is already happening in Europe and soon in America. Are we willing to heed the call of God? to be a prophetic voice to the religous Christian leaders of Singapore to call them to repentance just as Nineveh was called to turn away from their cruelty. Let us abide in God’s grace and mercy that we may truly show forth God’s love in Singapore, a blessed nation. God is looking for a people who loves His presence, knows His voice, and have a lifestyle of surrender to God's will.