The kindest person you can think of needs grace just as much as you do, and the person you believe could never be redeemed, is on the same playing field as you when it comes to grace.
We are calling our series “I am Jonah” and of the four chapters in this story, this last chapter is the one where I am Jonah most often in my life. From time to time I run from God’s command like Jonah in chapter 1, and crying out to Jesus is a fairly regular thing for me (though maybe not in the belly of a fish like in chapter 2). Sometimes I return and follow through with God’s requests like Jonah follows through with Nineveh. But anger—anger is something that seems to be an ever-flowing current always lying just below the surface of my heart.
My Bible titles this section as “Jonah’s Anger at the Lord’s Compassion” which when disconnected from our own experience feels ridiculous. Who would ever announce they wished God would be less concerned about suffering? Who desires a God that lacks kindness? Would anyone honestly say that they’d rather God be calloused, harsh or indifferent? But let’s take a quick look at the object of God’s compassion in Jonah’s life: Nineveh.
Nineveh was a prominent, bustling city at the center of life in the Assyrian empire. But these people weren’t just snobby New Yorkers or vain Los Angelenos, the Assyrians were known for being calculatedly cruel. The leaders were power-hungry and known for making horrific spectacles of anyone who dared to revolt or oppose them. Check out the prophet Nahum’s description of this militant city in Nahum chapter 3.
“Woe to the city of blood, full of lies, full of plunder, never without victims! The crack of whips, the clatter of wheels, galloping horses and jolting chariots!
Charging cavalry, flashing swords and glittering spears! Many casualties, piles of dead, bodies without number, people stumbling over the corpses—all because of the wanton lust of a prostitute, alluring, the mistress of sorceries, who enslaved nations by her prostitution and peoples by her witchcraft.”
If there was ever to be a time to brilliantly destroy wickedness, I think most people in Jonah’s world (and probably ours as well) would agree this city would be a fine target. “They deserved what was coming…” Right?
It’s here I find myself as Jonah, angry at God’s compassion more often than I’d like to admit.
I feel this tension when someone who lives for selfish choices that harm everyone around them, turns a new leaf and is instantly welcomed back into the community. I feel this tension when a friend whose affair wrecked a marriage, suddenly becomes transformed and happily married, all the while I still sit at home alone. Or when someone who has hurt me, seemingly gets away with it all, only to lead a life of love and happiness, while I’m left to figure out how to move forward.
I want people to feel the weight of their actions. I want to see justice served.
The disconnect comes when we forget that we are all on level ground when it comes to God’s compassion. That justice actually means that none of us deserve anything. We can’t live up to the standard that is necessary to be right with our holy and just God. We are all in the same boat. I love how my friend Maggie Schade puts it: “You are in no more or less need of grace than anyone else.” The kindest person you can think of needs grace just as much as you do, and the person you believe could never be redeemed, is on the same playing field as you when it comes to grace.
Justice finds its answer in the cross. That when anyone, at whatever level of darkness, surrenders their will, desires, plans, dreams, entire self, to be under the Lordship of Jesus, and clings to Christ’s atoning sacrifice as their own, they are shown grace. God’s grace often looks different than we wished. Like Jonah with the plant, I feel as if I have a right to receive things from God, yet everything God gives is a gift unmerited. And God’s grace to Jonah here may have been to push him a little farther into a life free of entitlement. Our response to God’s actions of compassion toward some and withholding from others flows from our ability (or inability) to trust.
When we trust that God is good – that he wants good things for us, and that he is wise – that he truly knows what is best for us, then when he does things that don’t make sense to us, we can trust that it is actually for our good, and the good of those around us.
I am Jonah, but I am praying that as the Holy Spirit continues his work, I would celebrate God’s grace in transforming the lives of others, and I would strive to irradicate self-righteousness and entitlement from my own heart and mind. May I be confident in God’s grace and love for me, and in turn desire that even the hardest people for me to love, would get to experience that grace and love for themselves.