Anyone who grew up in or near a church knows the first half of Jonah’s story. God says to go to Nineveh, Jonah says no thanks and hops on a ship, the ship hits a storm and Jonah gets swallowed by a whale where, after three days of prayer, he gets spit up on shore and says, well I guess I’ll go to Nineveh now. I’m not making light of the story. There’s a lot of value in the story. Lessons about obeying God, forgiveness, and second chances. But the second half of the story is pretty stunning and it’s often forgotten. It was that half that hit me upside the head yesterday morning.
So the Cliff’s Notes version is, after traveling to Nineveh, Jonah told the Ninevites (?) that their city and all in it were about to be destroyed because they’d invoked the wrath of God and, it turns out, the folks responded. Everyone felt terrible and immediately repented, including the king, and they begged for forgiveness and compassion from the Lord. At the end of Chapter 3 we see that, “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.” Wouldn’t you think that immediately Jonah would do a happy dance? I mean he’d saved an entire city and brought them back to the Lord.
You would be wrong. Instead, Jonah 4 tells us that, “to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the LORD, “Isn’t this what I said, LORD, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.””
Jonah gives God a LECTURE! Is your mouth gaping open? Mine was when I reread this. Jonah basically tells God I Told You So! He’s saying, um God, seeeee, this is why I ran. I KNEW you’d be merciful and you’d save these terrible sinners, so just strike me down now because I DO NOT want to be a part of all this.
Have you ever done either one of those things? One, get mad at God because you were the good girl and here He goes showing mercy to someone who so clearly doesn’t deserve His goodness like, say, you. Or two, and even worse, lecturing God. God, this is what I was TRYING to explain to you. But you kept at it. You kept pushing. So I did it. And now exactly what I thought might happen happened and you should have just listened to me all along.
I know it sounds very shocking, and almost sacrilegious, when I translate so sarcastically, but that is exactly what we’re doing. Or at least it’s what I’ve done. I have failed to show mercy. I have failed to appreciate the showing of mercy. Even though I’m one of the world’s biggest beneficiaries of God’s abundant mercy, I have found myself feeling a little stingy about it when He doles it out to some. More than even that though I have found myself thinking, “See God.” “See. This is what I was SAYING to you when you weren’t listening!”
He knows what He is doing. He knows what is best. And when we start lecturing the God of the Universe on our perspective on things, well, we shouldn’t head out in a lightening storm. Know that He always hears us. But He’s doing what He’s doing because He’s in the business of saving people. He’d like you to help Him. He’d like you to allow Him to use you as a vessel for His grace and love and compassion. He doesn’t NEED you. But He’ll use you if you’ll allow Him.
So the next time we find ourselves feeling stingy about the bountiful granting of mercy, shouldn’t we remember where we would be without that same mercy blessing on our lives? And the next time we find ourselves lecturing God, trying to be a know it all (or worse yet being ridiculously melodramatic – did you catch that here? I mean he’d rather die -c’mon!), let’s just stop. Stop dead cold in our tracks and remember that He is who He says He is. The way, the truth, and the life. The beginning and the end.
(Oh, and make sure you go read all of Chapter 4 – God gives Jonah a pretty priceless life lesson at the end in response to his indignation…..)