Hello my name is Jonah and I am angry. My experience seems to be known by many, but most don’t realize that my story is the only story in Scripture that ends with a question. My name is synonymous within Christendom as the disgruntled prophet. Though information of my personal life is minimal, there is plenty known of my ministry. I was commanded by God to go to the terrible city of Nineveh to minister to people who didn’t deserve grace. Who doesn’t know about the brutality of the Assyrians? If like truly becomes like, then destruction from Jehovah was their just deserts. Fighting against this call is what any other reasonable person would have done. The best case scenario was to head in the opposite direction in opposition against God’s realistic claim over my life. In regards to the vial Assyrians, what was needed was a vehicle of divine judgment, not divine mercy. God thought otherwise. It seems as if Jehovah God prepared undeserved grace for the unworthy while preparingan object lesson for me. It was nothing for God to prepare a fish, a gourd, and a worm to expose wrong judgements in my own mind. After walking a day into Nineveh, my unenthusiastic single sermon was used by God to bring about the greatest recorded revival in human history. While God dispensed grace, I exposed a begrudging spirit. Things ended well (I guess). I was left with a story to tell in which I was not the hero, but simply a vessel for God’s purposes. I encountered great difficulty in my running from divine service, the three days in the fish’s belly, the walk into the center of Nineveh bleached from stomach acid, and the anticipation for deserved judgement. However, have you even considered the difficulty of recording these events for the benefit of those who would later read my story? My angry resistance to God should be read slowly…especially if you, who are reading it, might have thought you would have done things different.
Now back to 2021…My name is not actually Jonah. I am a pastor. Yet, I can appreciate the difficulty of Jonah’s assignment. Jonah is not alone in the realm of those called to ministry who struggle to care for people who don’t deserve grace. Many years ago I was asked to speak to men who were incarcerated for crimes and awaiting their trials. When you go into a jail, you already know you will be dealing with criminals, though unaware of their specific crimes. Most of these men were simply a “captive audience.” Some truly listened to the message I brought them that day. The response to the message was blasé at best. I don’t preach to elicit a thoughtless response, but I speak of the misery of their sin, the deliverance offered through the Gospel, and the gratitude of heart for those who are redeemed by the grace of God. A preacher delivers the Word and trusts that God will have his way.
On my way out of the jail an officer asked me if I had time to share the message to another individual. Quickly, my hesitancy from time constraints dissipated. I remembered of God’s graciousness to give me another opportunity to share the Scriptures. That is how pastors are to think. Right? Just before entering into the second bay I was told that there was only one prisoner who was waiting to be transported to a federal prison to begin serving his sentence. Seconds before my arrival I found out he had recently been convicted of the molestation of a child…
A hateful mixture of anger, angst, and disgust filled my heart as I looked into the eyes of the solitary individual who committed the most heinous of crimes that could be imagined. His jail term was only a small part of his coming deserved punishment. When the general population of the federal prison find out his crimes he will experience far worse. To say that I experienced genuine pity on this individual would be a lie.
My second sermon was significantly shorter and given from a disengaged heart, though the shackled man was attentive and taking notes. Sadly, it didn’t matter to me. This man’s actions affected both the extent of my compassion and the level of my zeal. His previously committed crimes blinded my mind to the humanity of this condemned convict. Did Christ die to save sinners? But what about someone like this? Is it not surprising that the heart of Jonah, almost 800 years B.C. was similar to a preacher in the 21st century (and probably you as well)? I was all about compassion to the inmates whose stories I was oblivious to, but all about justice to the one individual in which I knew a few facts. Am I proud of this? No. But it was my reality at the time.
Consider the Psalmist who wrote, “Who is like the LORD our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens, and in the earth?” 113:5-6. God stoops from His throne to squint into the creation that He made in order to gaze upon sinful humanity. We are horrified by the actions of others while at the same time excusing our own sins. We foolishly compare ourselves to the worst of the worse in order to decrease our anxiety, pump our pride, and give us reasons to point fingers. We assume God does the same. When we display such behavior, it says nothing about God, but much about us. It shows that our perception of sin is tainted and fundamentally flawed at the base level. Jonah’s problem, and mine as well, was rather simple and stated in an earlier Psalm, “…you thought that I was one like yourself…” 50:21b.
The truth is that the Assyrians, Jonah, the molester, and the preacher are all deserving of divine justice. A thousand years before Paul wrote Romans, David stated, “The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.” Psm. 14:2-3.
The book of Jonah ends by God stating His divine prerogative in demonstrating grace on the sinful and undeserving, while Jonah was self-loathing under a dry and withered plant. Minimizing my sins while maximizing the sins of others is egregious in itself. “A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is his delight.” Prov. 11:1 I find myself this moment angry, not at the condemned heinous act of the criminal, but at my own self-righteous and self-justifying heart. In the eyes of God, outside of the Gospel, I am no better.