“When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it. But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 3:10 -4:3)
We could read this and think, “How could someone who knew God not want Him to show mercy to everyone?” And the response could be, “Good question. Why don’t you want Him to show mercy to everyone?”
Jonah is a very visible, tangible, historical reminder of our own hearts. He was a servant of God; a prophet, speaking the very message of God (2 Kings 14:25) and he knew God’s character well. He knew God was merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love…he knew God was forgiving and relenting from disaster. He knew the heart of God that Ezekiel would later say takes “no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from [their] way and live.” (Ez. 33:11) He knew God’s heart and he knew the people of Nineveh…the people that cut off heads and hung them in trees around the city; the people who skinned people alive; the people who burned children alive; the people who mocked God openly (2 Kings 19:16) and wished to destroy His people. Jonah didn’t want forgiveness for them, he wanted destruction.
Right now we might all say…”Uh, I’m not like that, I’m not like Jonah. How can you say I don’t want God to show mercy to everyone?” Then this question comes to mind: do I believe that destruction is coming for those that do not know Christ?
Jonah’s message was clear: destruction is coming (Jonah 3:4). The message to the world is clear: destruction is coming (John 3:36, Rom. 2:5, Col. 3:6). Yet just like in the days of Jonah, God is willing to relent and now we know this for sure. How? The cross! We don’t have to say with the Ninevites, “Who knows? God may turn and relent.” No! We can say with Jesus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” (John 5:24) God’s mercy is sure!
Yet, knowing this I still, so often, sit in my home, with my friends, in my safe suburb, watching as the world moves on into eternity without telling them of the hope that is available, the mercy that can be found, the grace that is offered. So often, with my lips I testify that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) And by my actions I make a booth, with Jonah, and I sit under it in the shade, till I see what will become of the world (Jonah 4:5). Too many times, with words I love my neighbor, but in deed I hate them.
In Jonah, I see myself. My hardness of heart, my lack of compassion for those outside of “my people,” and my desire to be comfortable rather than give up everything to share God’s love. But Jonah is not my example, Jesus is. In Jesus I see what I desire to be…compassionate, merciful, gracious, loving, patient…always hoping, always caring, always giving. Then I think, “Ok, go be that. That’s what He’s called you to be, that’s what He’s freed you to be…so go, do it.” And I can’t help but get excited about tearing down the booth I built with Jonah and walking back into the city thinking, “If the mercy of God extends to those who cut off heads & hang them in trees & burn children alive…who can it not reach?”
May we all love our neighbors…in word and deed.
May we risk it all to give the world hope.
May we learn to follow.