"What Will Become of Mosul?"
For better or worse, I can still hear the pirates’ song from Veggie Tales when I read the book of Jonah; it used to be when I read “Ninevites,” I’d see some small produce character slap another small produce character with a fish. I was young (not young enough to justify this kind of familiarity with the series), but I got the point: the Ninevites were godless. God is kind, and He extended mercy to them. Jonah was a nationalist, and a little too stingy with the Gospel, so he tried to not go.
Then I got older, and I read the parable about the honorable and dishonorable son (not Luke 15). Jonah was an exaggerated example of the begrudgingly obedient son; but we all find ourselves in the storyline at some point. Many of us can remember a time we felt the Holy Spirit nudge us to do something—insert scenario here—and we didn’t do it. It may have been brazen disobedience, or simply disbelieving we heard the voice of the Lord. Then there are the times we receive an order, and deliberately walk in the other direction. (Imagine pulling that kind of stunt in the military and trying to explain it to your C.O.).
I wonder, though, if we can relate to Jonah yet further in a manner deeply relevant to us today. Centuries and generations after Jonah’s episode with the whale and the repentant Ninevites, Nineveh is yet again saturated in sin and blasphemy. She has also suffered incredible terror in the last few years alone under the tyrannical hand of the Islamic State. This ancient city, Mosul, has been reduced in many areas to rubble, graffiti-laden walls, and dry ash heaps of homes burnt to the ground. ISIS, airstrikes, sieges, and artillery fire have all had their way with Mosul, and the world is wondering what will happen next.
Once Jonah (begrudgingly) delivered the word of the LORD to this pagan place, he found a high point outside the city and built a shelter to sit down and “watch what would become of [it].” I’m not sure which attitude was the most immature—running from the omnipresent LORD, or living out an object lesson in His jealousy for the Gentile nations to know His name and character and learning absolutely nothing from it in the meantime.
We may often read Jonah and think, “Yeah, I’ve disobeyed. Thank God I’ve never been thrown overboard and eaten by a whale!” We say a prayer of gratitude for the mercy extended to us in the atoning death of God the Son. Yet how many of us read the book of Jonah and realize we are often just as unwilling to declare His merciful nature in the darkest pagan places on the earth? Who is willing to preach the Gospel in Mosul? Or will we simply sit back in the shade of our shelter and wait out the coalition campaign, checking headlines over our morning coffees? What will happen to Mosul? What’s the weather going to be like today?
Years into the “greatest humanitarian crisis” since the catastrophic body count of the Second World War and the Sho’ah—which were not so long ago no one alive now survived them firsthand—we must remove unprecedented human suffering from the realm of impossibility. Wars, rumors, and conspiracies surrounding them will run laps around the globe before the Lord’s return. Nations will become proxy pawns of stronger powers; indeed, many are already. Historic famine and sickness will spread across soil with no regard for political boundaries. “These things must take place,” and we are not to be afraid, alarmed, or thrown so off-guard by it all we go apostate.
What I find most ominous and sobering about Jesus’ description of the years just preceding His return—“birth pangs” to the glorious “childbirth” of a new age—is His sure word that many will “fall away” because their love grew cold. We will all be sifted, and globally in that day. Many believers will respond to the crisis like Peter did to the cross—blow it altogether, grieve over our immaturity, and respond to the mercy of Jesus when He surprises us with a roasted fish breakfast. Many, many others, though, will respond to the sifting like Judas Iscariot did; the one who “became a traitor.” Nobody wakes up out of nowhere with a seared conscience. Often, they are numbed first by a calloused heart.
Before us today is the choice to engage the crisis, or sit back in the comfort of our shelter alongside Jonah and watch to see what will become of Nineveh. Let’s not make the decision based on whether or not we had a dream or an out-loud word from the Lord (which may send us running seaward anyway). Let’s make the decision based on the witness of Jesus we want to give to our generation—to our literal neighbors, and our the-Good-Samaritan-found-a-stranger-on-the-roadside neighbors. We can’t choose the hour of history we live in. We can only choose how we respond to it.
 Matthew 21:28-32
 Jonah 4:5
 NPR. (2017). World faces largest humanitarian disaster since 1945, UN official says. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/03/11/519832515/world-faces-largest-humanitarian-crisis-since-1945-u-n-official-says
 Matthew 24:6
 Luke 6:16