The Journey with Jonah Part 4
But to Jonah this [repentance of Nineveh] seemed very wrong, and he became angry. 2 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. 3 Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”4 But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?”5 Jonah had gone out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. 6 Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. 7 But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.”
9 But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” “It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.” 10 But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”
When the heartbeat of the Father meets the hardness of the child there results a confrontation with the arrogance of human anger in the light of divine mercy.
We are not God. But discontent with this reality we demand that He cannot be God either. The Potter, we say, has no right to love the clay.
When Nineveh repents, a whole way of understanding is destroyed for Jonah. People can change. The wicked can become righteous. Grace finds irresistible any opportunity for its display. Awareness of how holy heaven is, how offensive we have become and how loving God might be can indeed result in the total and utter revolution of mercy across every conceivable line of human division. People we write off as unworthy of affection can weep their way into the kingdom.
The question then becomes not whether the world can receive God, but whether we desire to give Him.
When those we hate on earth are revealed as loved by heaven we are forced to choose between bitterness at our clear error or rejoicing at a glorious mistake. Jonah faces the same choice – he knows that his own people will one day reject the very God the Assyrians are accepting, that if Nineveh refuses to repent there remains the certainty of their annihilation. Deep in the fear of the human heart there exists this singular thought, that perhaps if God deals with the sins of others our own may be avoided. And so we criticize and judge and slander and gossip and expose with glee any who appear worse than ourselves in the desperate hope that creating headlines for others will hide the bylines of our own error. If Nineveh repents, they will be spared, and if they are spared their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren will destroy an idolatrous Israel. If only God would destroy our enemies we would be saved – but they are not our enemies. We are our enemies. Israel will not be destroyed by the Assyrians. They will destroy themselves. And so it is today. We imagine the world is the problem, our employer or employees, our government or its agents, our spouse or our children – if only we did not have to bear with the errors and arrogance of others, we suppose, we could begin our unencumbered thriving as holy people. But if we were holy people our thriving would not exist in such a fantasy to begin with. Intimacy with the Creator comes with the totality of such an experience – not merely that He provides the vine, but that He offers the heart. Jonah Jonah Jonah … would we along with you not merely yearn for the fleeting comfort of today but love the countless destinies of tomorrow.
Jonah is cheap with grace for others and abundant with comfort for self. And we find him at the end of a ministry which many a man would give all he has for – the radical revival of an unreached ethnic group with longstanding national and cultural antagonism to the truth – and Jonah is exactly where he has always been, on the outside of an inside message. Come unto Me and I will draw close to you, proclaims the Lord. Be holy as I am holy, and I will be your God, and you will be My people…
In the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘children of the living God.’”
This is a message of the inside – yearn to be embraced, and embraced you will be. And Jonah sits outside of the celebration. Jonah sleeps in the bottom of the boat. Jonah waits in the deep of the sea. Jonah accomplishes more in a month of ministry than most of us will see in a lifetime of service. But the whole world can spin towards the arms of its Maker and not move the grip of self upon the self, the vice of the soul within the soul, the strength of our will when our will is considered our strength, the rightness of ourselves at our most unrighteous, the sense that we can feel whatever we want about whomever we want in the unchecked rationalizations of the embittered.
And God confronts all such violence against the truth. God challenges – no affirmation, no validation, no head-nodding, no yessing, no agreement, no tact of man – the arrogance of emotion unfettered by reality. God confronts the dynamic of emotion few today would go either by training or temperament, that sometimes what human beings are feeling is categorically incorrect. You, proclaims the Creator of the entire universe, have no right to be angry, when anger is rooted in the selfish observations of personal view against the astounding love of infinite power. Jonah holds fast – he will not retreat, he will not relent or repent or repose – yes Jonah holds fast to his desire from day one to die alone rather than love others. And his life screams unbridled its warning to all who hear well its words, that we may accomplish the kingdom and find ourselves strangers to its castle, the unassailable tower of grace, the solid Rock, the way to the Father, the new home and new family and all that we have ever wanted from the One our souls desire.
We do not have to fear the Assyrians who seem common in the news today, whomever our personal Assyrians may be – the destroyers and fear-givers and wicked communities seemingly impervious to truth – no we do not need to fear those whom God can cause to perish but not before inviting into peace. We do not need to fear those whom a righteous God will render judgement later but extend mercy first. We do not need to fear what will happen on earth – we need misalignment with heaven. We do not need to dread those who revel in the attention of evil, supposing fear will make them powerful. We need to fear only that what is God’s first thought is our death wish. We need only to fear the day that we look at the news and hope that others will be destroyed, for in that day we have destroyed not them, but us. We cease to be the kingdom when its King we will not abide. If we lose the heart of our Master, then to something else we have been enslaved. And whatever it is, we will find ourselves angry and bitter about what we think we have lost rather than elated about what others have received.
We never need to fear that people will repent.
We only need to fear becoming the kind of people who need to, but won’t.
We never need to fear that people will repent.
We only need to fear becoming unrepentant people.
We do not need to fear the world into which God has commanded we proclaim His message of coming judgement and immediate invitation.
We only need to fear that having been used of God to soften the hearts of many of our own a lasting callousness remains.
We never need to dread the making of disciples nor the wicked world into which we go to so do.
What we must hold with holy reverence is not the making of disciples, but the losing of them.
We do not need to worry about others turning to the living God.
We need to concern ourselves with the living God having turned us towards others.
May we never lose Him having been too worried about us having to serve them.
May we not merely proclaim, but receive, because sometimes God sends the hesitant to the impossible for the benefit of both.