“Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.”
“You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”
We don’t need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer
For only love can conquer hate
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today.
“What’s Going on?” by Marvin Gaye
Father Greg Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles said, “God doesn’t have enemies; God has children.” Advent challenges me to remember this, especially in a year where what lived beneath the surface here in America became fully exposed. The global pandemic did not create new problems. It revealed them.
Maybe you’re like me, and social media is a significant part of your day. Help us God on the Facebook. Harmful beliefs became clear in the posts and comments section more than they ever were in real life. The 24-hour news cycle is overwhelming. Scandal after scandal across sectors of society – the church, business, academia, and government. Death, loss and grief. Divisive, polarizing rhetoric. Conspiracy theories and Q Anon. Shameful social media political discourse between Christians. How is anyone surviving in these streets?
To make matters worse, for me, there are entire streams in the body of Christ that I prefer to loathe and dismiss as villains and enemies. Surely these are not the children of God. These are enemies of progress. Surely God hates these fools too! Anne Lamott says, “You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” (Geez Anne, obviously you wrote this before 2020 tho.)
Many of the sermons I’ve preached are about loving our other, but what I mean is to love immigrants, vulnerable neighbors and those society dismisses and discards. But I do not always practice what I preach. My other feels impossible to love. Those who hunger and thirst for power, those who are blissfully unaffected by the concerns of others, those whose privilege blinds them – impossible to love, enemies of progress.
But, does God not love them? Did he not create them in his image? Is enemy love part of our faith practice? I think of Jonah, hell bent on disobeying God. He did not want the Ninevites to be saved because he did not believe them worthy of salvation. In fact, he told GOD (the literal audacity) if he wanted them saved, he could do it himself. Why? Because they were ruthless, greedy, conquerors who likely destroyed people and places that Jonah loved. Ninevites were at the top of the pyramid, propped up by vulnerable people. And they didn’t care one iota. When Jonah finally obeys God’s instruction, he says a sentence: “Forty days from now Ninevah will be destroyed!” (Jonah 3:4 NLT)
Starting with the King, the whole city goes into mourning and repentance, which leads to God’s decision to not destroy them. I resonate so deeply with Jonah’s response: “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.”
Jonah wanted their absolute destruction. God wanted redemption. Several years ago, I had a call with Lisa Sharon Harper. I complained about the trouble I had transitioning from working in jails and serving the poor and marginalized into serving a new community of mostly privileged people. It felt impossible. She looked at me, a fire in her eye, and said, “This is your work. These are your people. Can you imagine how things could change if this group understood generosity, and the impact of their power on others?”
It reoriented my heart and mind, centering me on the truth of Christ and the possibility of redemption in my life and the life of the community. I went to work, actually practicing what I preach, loving my other. Romans 13:8 tells us to “owe no man but to love him”. I like this approach. It doesn’t mean we have to like everyone, or let people run all over us, or accept harm from others. Look at Jonah – he hated those Ninevites before and after he obeyed God to save them.
Love chooses redemption. Love is big enough to understand that God is outside our preferences and prejudices. Love desires healing for the victims of injustice and for the community, which means accountability and repentance of the powerful perpetuators must be confronted, corrected and involved for injustice to end. I think I hate this, but that doesn’t make it less true. Marvin Gaye sings in What’s Going On?: “For only love can conquer hate.”
Advent is the time to sit with our resistance to redemption. Now is the time to remember that Christ came for us all, even the ones we dislike. It is the time to repent and return to love. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
Ashley Abercrombie is a writer and speaker, and author of Rise of the Truth Teller: Own Your Story, Tell it Like it is, and Live with Holy Gumption. For more than 15 years, she has worked in non-profit spaces, leading faith-based initiatives, serving as a prison chaplain and pastor, speaking at conferences, churches, and events. She is cohost of the hilarious and helpful podcast Why Tho, and lives in Los Angeles with her husband, two sons and baby girl. Purchase her book, read and watch content, or connect on her website: www.ashabercrombie.org.