Jonah 3:7 – 9 “Then he issued a proclamation in Nineveh: ‘By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”
Don’t you just hate that moment when the clouds open up, the bright light of heaven shines down, and you realize you’ve been . . . well, wrong?
It’s hard to admit that we’ve messed up. It’s hard to own up to our faults. To do so means we have to swallow our pride, humble ourselves, and say we’re sorry. And none of us likes to do that.
But that is what repentance calls for. Whether we are repenting to God or to another person, true repentance does more than say, “I’m sorry.” It does more than beg for mercy in order to avoid punishment. Oh, those things might be results of true repentance. But alone, they don’t add up to repentance.
Nope. True repentance requires an all-out, honest look at ourselves and our actions. True repentance requires us to say, “Oh, man. I really messed up. I was wrong, and I don’t want to do that again.”
True repentance requires shame.
All too often, we put on a sort of repentance-like countenance, usually when we’ve been caught doing something we shouldn’t have. We want to avoid the consequences of our transgressions, so we say we’re sorry. Then, we act really sweet for a few days, until we feel like the danger has passed.
Not so for the Ninevites. From the king all the way down to the poorest beggar, they repented. They realized that what Jonah said was true, and that they deserved every ounce of doom God intended to hurl upon them.
Jonah’s preaching brought with it that moment of the clouds opening up. The people saw themselves for what they really were – dreadful, disgraceful, disgusting sinners who had perverted God’s love and broken God’s laws.
And they were ashamed.
Recently, I’ve had one of those moments of realization about my own life. I feel like Paul, who said “the things I want to do, I don’t do, and the things I don’t want to do, I do.” I don’t always mirror God’s character to those around me. I am impatient. Unkind. I lose my temper.
And I am ashamed.
That shame feels pretty rotten, and yet I am grateful for it. For it’s in that moment of acknowledgement of my sinfulness that God’s mercy begins it’s beautiful, thirst-quenching descent on my life. You see, it’s never His intent or desire to cast doom on any of His creation. He loves us, and He doesn’t want any of us to perish.
But He knows that sin will destroy us, and it’s consequences in our lives will bring much greater havoc and misery than a one-time explosion, or whatever He was threatening for Nineveh. He wanted them to repent, so that they could start living the full, abundant lives He created them for.
He wants that for us, too.
While I’m not sure I’ll walk around wearing sackcloth (not even sure what that is or where to purchase it), and I doubt I’ll cover myself with ashes from my bar-b-que grill, I do feel shame for the wrong things I have done. I will most certainly spend some time on my knees, telling God how wrong I’ve been, and asking Him to help me change. Like the Ninevites, I want to do everything I can to show God how sorry I am.
Dear Father, Thank you for the Ninevites’ example of repentance. Help me to see my sin for what it is, and turn from it.