Jonah 4:1 “But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry.”
Have you ever been seething, boiling angry? I’m not talking about a little miffed. I’m talking about the kind of angry where you feel you will explode, the kind of angry where you want to hit someone or destroy something. That’s the kind of anger Jonah felt at this moment.
Reading this from our comfortable easy-chairs, centuries after the fact, we tend to think of Jonah as a spoiled, selfish man who wanted God’s grace only for Himself. To our way of thinking, he looks like a child with a favorite toy – he doesn’t want to share. But that’s not exactly true.
You see, in many ways, Jonah was justified in his anger. Nineveh wasn’t just a city of evil people. They weren’t the kinds of drug-using, prostitution-loving people who might say, “Who are we hurting?” They weren’t just corrupt and sinful.
They were terrorists.
Yes, you heard me. The Ninevites were terrorists. They had violently attacked the Israelites, had killed them and hung their body parts out for sport. They were a sick, hateful, perverse people, and they deserved punishment. Jonah knew that any repentance they offered would, in all likelihood, be only temporary, and he was right. Less than a generation later, Nineveh returned to her wicked ways.
Common sense told Jonah – and tells us as well – that these types of people must be punished. They must be destroyed, or they will live to terrorize again.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
How could a loving, compassionate God allow such wickedness in the world? Forget about the Ninevites. What about the Israelites? Surely, God would bring justice upon the people who had caused so much agony to His own people. Wouldn’t He?
Well, no. And Jonah knew that from the beginning.
And it made him so mad, he could barely speak.
So, now that we understand Jonah’s anger, let’s look at things from God’s point of view. Seeing things from God’s perspective is always difficult, because we are limited in our understanding. But praise God, His Holy Spirit helps us see things the way He sees them, when we ask Him. Dear Lord, help us to understand.
God loves the people He created. All of them. And although He is a God of strict justice, He is also a God of immeasurable mercy and compassion.
Yeah, He had compassion on the Israelites, just as He has compassion on us. Yeah, He was steamed at the Ninevites’ behavior, which is why He threatened calamity.
But, while Jonah saw only the wickedness of the Ninevites, God saw their ignorance (Jonah 4:11). They didn’t know any other way to be. Wickedness, destruction and terrorism were a way of life for them, ingrained in them from the time they were infants. While the Israelites had hope, the Ninevites had none. The Israelites knew of God’s goodness and mercy. The Ninevites lived in total darkness.
Yes, God knew that the Ninevites would eventually return to their evil ways, just as He knew the Israelites would. Just as He knows I will and you will. Still, He loves all of the people He created, and He wants us to know that love. And when He sees a person or a nation who is without hope, He will do just about anything to show Himself to them. To us.
Yeah, I know. My evil ways can’t be compared to those of a terrorist. But perhaps that’s because I have been blessed to live in a nation, in a culture where God’s light shines. Though it may be dim at times, He is there, and any who seek Him will find Him.
But what if I lived in a culture that was so black, so evil and wicked . . . what if darkness was all I knew? What if I was so accustomed to the dark, I didn’t even recognize the possibility of light? What if I just accepted perversity and cruelty as normal?
What if I had no hope?
Strict justice, without compassion and mercy, would say that I must burn in hell. It would even say I should be treated the way I have treated others, and die a cruel and torturous death. An eye for an eye, right?
Although God is a just God, He is also compassionate. It is His compassion that allows me, a lowly sinner, to become His child with all the rights and privileges afforded a child of the King. Even though I’ve done nothing to deserve that kind of love, He loves me anyway, simply because He created me.
He created me and you, and He loves us. And friends, He created the people we don’t like, too.
Sometimes, we get angry when God blesses someone we dislike. We get pouty and sulky when our arch enemy gets a promotion, or the gal who beat us out for homecoming queen also gets a full scholarship to the school we applied for. And when someone who has gone out of their way to treat us badly receives a big ol’ heaping helping of God’s grace, man, we can hardly stand it.
That’s the difference between us and God. And if God weren’t the kind of God who shows compassion on repentant terrorists, He also wouldn’t be the kind of God who shows compassion on me.
Dear Father, Forgive me for being angry at Your goodness, shown to people I don’t like. Help me to see things the way You see them. Help me to love people, not because they deserve love, but because they need it.