The One Question No One is Asking About Syrian Refugees

Have you ever read a story that did not have a happy ending?

I have. It is called The Mockingjay, the last book in The Hunger Games series.

In the book, Katniss leads a rebellion against the tyrannical government of Panem. At the same time, there is a love triangle between Katniss, guy #1, and guy #2. And you know someone is going to die. As I neared the end, I kept pleading, “Please don’t let it be Katniss. PLEASE don’t let Katniss die!”

As long as guy #1 or guy #2 died, I would be okay. Don’t lie — you were wishing for the same thing too.

Katniss

[Spoiler Alert]

A bombing attacks kills Katniss’ sister Prim. Katniss – and both interested guys – survive. This is one of the most jarring endings I have ever read in a book. It left me asking, “Why? Why Prim? She was a medic!”

Later, I was reading an interview with the author Suzanne Collins. As I read the interview, I realized The Hunger Games’ purpose. Collins wanted to open young people’s eyes to the reality of war. That war does not affect only one side or the other. War impacts the innocent people caught in between.

Collins used a dramatic ending to communicate a deeper truth. She wants you to ask the hard question, “Why Prim?” But then she wants to draw you deep into the book and see the deeper truth within the story.

Jonah

[Spoiler Alert]

Jonah has an unhappy ending as well.

Yes, Jonah has an engaging narrative, moving poetry, and even subtle humor. But it is the ending that makes Jonah one of my intriguing books of the Bible. Watch how the story unfolds:

  • Chapter 1: Jonah runs from God
  • Chapter 2: Jonah runs to God
  • Chapter 3: Jonah runs with God

A perfect, 3 Act structure. And right when you are celebrating Jonah’s transformation, chapter 4 hits you right in the face.

Let me explain.

Runs from God

In chapter 1, God sends His prophet to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria.

Nineveh was one of the largest and most powerful cities of that time. It was a powerful, intimidating place full of evil, broken people. The Assyrians are infamous for being one of the cruelest people in history.

Next to the Assyrians, even ISIS look like school boys.

No wonder Jonah ran.

Runs to God

With the help of a God-appointed storm and fish, Jonah runs back to God. When God says go preach to Nineveh, Jonah goes and preaches in Nineveh. The Word of God sends shockwaves throughout Nineveh and the people repent.

As they turn from their wickedness, God turns from his promised judgment against them.

And Jonah turns to anger.

Runs Ahead of God

Chapter 4 opens with the most unexpected line:

But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry.

Why? This is the end! This is the last chapter where everyone is suppose to be happy! Instead, Jonah throws a tantrum, stomps out on God, and sulks. God and Jonah talk, and…

The book ends. Chapter 4 closes. Unresolved.

  • Does Jonah repent?
  • Does Jonah continues in his rebellion?

We will never know.

Confronting the Ending

The Truth about Jonah

Why the unhappy ending?

To be honest, this is what makes Jonah one my favorite books in the Bible. It turns upside down every expectation you have for a book in the Bible. God doesn’t tie up all the loose strings. Instead, God paints a raw picture of an imperfect human.

But when you look deeper within the story, what you see is startling. You see more than a picture of Jonah. You see a honest yet gritty reflection of the inner self. Because this is not only the story of Jonah. This is the story of us.

We are Jonah.

The Truth about Ourselves

God uses this dramatic ending to communicate a deeper truth. He wants you to ask the question, “What does Jonah do next?” But then God wants to draw you deep into the book and see the deeper truth within the story.

And the truth is uncomfortable.

God wants to confront your deepest assumptions and perceptions with the truth. He wants you to wrestle and engage with it. He dares you to ask: “What would I have done?”

This question is not for the faint-hearted. Prepare yourself.

The Truth About God

The truth is about God. It was the truth He wanted Jonah to see and the truth He wants us to see.

Here it is:

God delights in showing grace — even to broken, evil people.

God was calling Jonah to run with Him. To delight in displaying this grace to the people of Nineveh – even though they were broken and evil. Instead of delighting in it, Jonah resented God’s grace. It wasn’t fair. It didn’t make sense. And Jonah wanted no part in it.

God comes to you and says, “I delight in showing grace — even to broken, evil people. Will you delight in this grace as well? Are you on board with this?”

Are you okay with God extending grace? Even to people you don’t think deserve it?

The Truth about Syrian Refugees

There is something I want you to grapple with, but I need to clarify first.

What I am about to say next is not meant to be political. It is not my opinion, commentary, or rant. I am not taking sides. I will leave the arguing to those who are more qualified and who have more time.

  • If you agree with Syrian refugees entering your country, this question is for you.
  • If you disagree with Syrian refugees entering your country, this question is for you.

Good? Now let me show you where I am going with this…

Confronting the Question

I want you to play a game with me. Are you ready?

The Game

Imagine you are Jonah and a prophet of God (because this is a game, of course). Now God comes to you and says, “Arise, go to Syria, and proclaim the words I tell you.”

Would you do it?

Now let’s make it trickier. Jonah was a prophet and lived around the same time as the prophets Amos and Hosea. Both Amos and Hosea prophesied that God was going to use Assyria to judge Israel. Fifty years after the close of Jonah’s ministry, Assyria decimated Israel.

Now it makes sense why Jonah started running to a destination over 2,500 miles away.

Back to the game. Let’s say (for the sake of illustration) that God was going to use the people of Syria to judge your nation far in the future. Would you still go to Syria and preach the gospel?

Your Turn

More than likely, you only clicked this article because saw the title, “Syrian Refugees”. Now that you are more than 1,000 words in, you want to know that one question. Here you go:

Question: Will you extend grace to the Syrian refugees in your community?

I once asked this question from the pulpit and it got very quiet. The fact is that we are Christians. And as Christians we have an obligation. God is demanding you to answer the question: “Will you extend grace even to the Syrian refugees in your community?”

The truth? We are Jonah.

We are Jonah unless…

  • Hey, Sam!

    So I found your blog in the recent Facebook list of link for the Rebelution’s Young Writers group.
    I really appreciate your post and agree with your main point. (I disagree that 18,000 Syria refuges is a large enough number to say that everyone is likely to have a Syrian family near by, with the size of the United States and population, this is not actually true, but that is beyond your main point.) However, your message still needs to be shared because there are many other groups of people that Christians need to extend grace and love to.
    Also nice job on your blog in general

    God bless,
    Gabrielle

    • samlbyers

      Gabrielle,
      Thank you for the kind words! By the way, your disagreement is spot on.

      ***deletes that section from the article***

      Seriously, thank you for your honesty and willingness to share your thoughts. That means a lot!

      Looking forward to reading your blog!

      • I am glad that I could help! I would want the same, so I try to do so for others. I look forward to talking with you more in the group!