3 ways Jonah reminds us to love those with whom we disagree

August 20, 2020

One need not look long or hard to find evidence of bitter political polarization, and Christians are by no means immune to being sucked into the ongoing outrage war. Though we must play our part in seeking the welfare of our earthly home, whether in our personal lives or in the public arena, we must be sure that our convictions never compromise our kindness or compassion toward those with whom we disagree. We must be diligent to ask ourselves: How should we relate with those who think differently? And how can we be reminded to love even the most extreme and hateful individuals?

One resource that can be helpful in answering these questions is the closing sequence of the book of Jonah. In this passage we learn that as triumphant as the prophet’s rescue from the belly of the fish and witness to the Ninevites are, the story does not end there—Jonah has much more to learn about God’s mercy. In Jonah 4 we are given a picture of the Lord’s heart of compassion. The passage gives Christians these three reminders when engaging with those who have political differences:

1. Jonah reminds us of the grace we’ve received in Christ.

Jonah 4 opens by giving us a stark contrast between the merciful heart of God and the bitter heart of his prophet. After the Lord relents from sending disaster to Nineveh (3:10), Jonah becomes incensed (4:1). He says, “This is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you were a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from sending disaster” (4:2, ESV). This is a shocking statement. 

The very characteristics of God that Jonah’s people were meant to take comfort in (Exo. 34:6-7) are now the target of Jonah’s ire. The reason such sentiments are especially egregious is the fact that the prophet had just been an undue benefactor of these attributes. It was not much earlier that he had been rescued from the sea and the belly of the fish after his deliberate disobedience. He is as much a recipient of God’s mercy as the Ninevites are, yet he grumbles to God.

It is often easy for us to have memories as short as Jonah’s when we engage with those ideologically opposed to us. It is tempting for us to view them as less deserving of God’s grace than we are, especially if they are hateful and bigoted. But when we are faced with those whose views we find selfish and abhorrent, we must be quick to remember exactly who we were when we were saved. 

Paul reminds believers in Ephesus that they were once “carrying out the desires of the body and mind” and that they were “children under wrath” (Eph. 2:3). He tells the Romans that Christ died for us not when we were righteous, but while we were sinners (Rom. 5:7-8). Like Jonah, we were all once wayward souls running from God, and it is only by his grace in Christ that we have been brought into this new and transformed life. This is why we show mercy to our adversaries: without the mercy God showed us, would we be any different than they are?

2. Jonah reminds us our opponents are in need of this grace.

After Jonah expresses his anger to God for showing mercy to the Ninevites, he sets up camp east of the city in the hopes that Yahweh might change his mind and send destruction upon it (4:5). After the Lord grows a plant to shade his prophet from the sun, only to destroy it the next day before sending a scorching east wind to make him more miserable than before (4:6-8), Jonah unleashes his anger toward God. But he is put in his place in the book’s closing verses: “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow . . . should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left?” 

We cannot universally recognize the sanctity of human life until we recognize it in those we find hardest to love.

With this statement, the Lord reminds Jonah of the utter lostness of the Ninevites. From a moral standpoint, the citizens of this city “do not know their right hand from their left”—putting them in desperate need of God’s grace. Are such things not also true of our ideological opponents? When our adversaries say and do offensive and inflammatory things, Christians are often tempted to view these individuals the same way Jonah viewed the Ninevites. But their behavior is not evidence of whether or not they deserve God’s grace. Instead, as is true of all of us, it is a reminder that they are in desperate need of it. 

Apart from redemption through the saving work of Christ, all are spiritually and morally bankrupt, and like the Ninevites, do not know their right from their left. Therefore, when engaging with individuals who have worldviews with which we disagree, Christians should not be motivated by anger and bitterness. Instead, we must operate under the conviction of biblical truth and with the compassionate understanding that all are in need of the saving benevolence of God.

3. Jonah reminds us to show compassion to our adversaries, as God does to his.

The patience God shows for Nineveh is merely a foretaste of the grace he would ultimately show in offering up his son. Jesus’s death on the cross was hardly a sacrifice for a group of people who considered him his friends; on the contrary, it was while we were enemies that we were reconciled to him (Rom. 5:10). If the Father’s love is so great to send his Son to die for those who hated him, why should we not show similar love toward our opponents?

We often share Jonah’s struggle to understand God’s heart for our foes, especially amidst such polarizing times. But the same compassion God shows Jonah and his opponents is no different from the compassion he shows to us. We may feel that we are more deserving of his grace and that our sin is lesser, but we were once no less opposed to God than our most aggravating antagonists are. It is for this reason that, even when the worst of humanity is put on display in this era, especially as seen in political division, we must strive to see all humans as dignified but fallen, in desperate need for someone to show them the mercy and compassion of God.


The outcomes of political and other processes certainly have real-life effects on human lives. As Christians, we have the obligation to uphold human dignity in all spheres of life, public or private. But doing so does not negate our obligation to show compassion to those with whom we disagree; in fact, we cannot universally recognize the sanctity of human life until we recognize it in those we find hardest to love. Our adversaries—in the public sphere, on social media, or in another arena—may be sinful and fallen, but they are never out of reach of God’s grace. That he can extend mercy to Jonah, the Ninevites, and to you and me is evidence of this, and it is something to always remember when engaging with those who are ideologically opposed to us.

Isaac Whitney

Isaac Whitney is a student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and serves as a pastoral intern at Christ Church West Chester in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24