Jonah 4:2 “He prayed to the Lord, ‘O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee 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.'”
Poor Jonah. He knew from the beginning that this would happen. Now, his worst fears have come true. Those evil, sick, violent, perverted Ninevites have avoided calamity by turning to God. And Jonah even knows, in his heart, that their repentance won’t last. However sincere they may be right now, Jonah knows they’ll eventually return to their old ways.
And boy, is he mad.
Why wouldn’t God just zap them all? Why would a loving and just God allow such evil to persist in the world? It didn’t make any sense. It wasn’t fair.
It still doesn’t make sense. It still doesn’t seem fair. Yet, God still stands with open arms, waiting to embrace all who turn to Him. He even reaches out to them, and tries to draw them in.
Even when He knows they will eventually turn back to their old ways.
Man. It just doesn’t seem right.
I guess that’s why God tells us, in Isaiah 55:9, that His ways are higher than our ways. We won’t ever truly understand God’s character, because we are limited in our understanding of such love-driven power. But in that same chapter in Isaiah, God offers an invitation: “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters.”
God’s compassion is equally available to everyone. Even the people who don’t deserve it.
Our understanding teaches us several things about justice:
1. Evil should be punished.
2. There are some levels of evil that can’t be rehabilitated.
3. If evil is forgiven without consequence, there’s no reason to live upright, faith-filled lives. What’s the point?
4. If evil isn’t judged, the bad guys win.
5. We need order. Part of that order requires consistent consequences for evil.
We need these rules for living. They are God-given and God-driven. So why doesn’t God have to play by His own rules?
Well, because He’s God. That’s why.
And because His love is always deep in the center of His judgement. While our desire is for judgment, at least for the people we don’t like, His desire is for a relationship with all the people He created. He doesn’t care any more or any less about my worst enemy than He does about me.
Yes, my friend. God will punish evil. He will have the final say. But He will never, ever blindly destroy someone who hasn’t had a clear opportunity to turn to Him first. And while I have been blessed with many opportunities to recognize God’s love and mercy and compassion, not everyone has been so blessed. Some people, because of their very culture of sin and violence, because of the bitterness and anger and hurt that has built up in their hearts, because of reasons that we can’t understand or imagine, have been blind. They haven’t seen God’s outstretched arm, though it’s been there all along. And God will not destroy them until they’ve clearly recognized the opportunity for salvation.
This story of God’s compassion toward the Ninevites isn’t a call to do away with our justice system. Rather, it’s an invitation to catch a glimpse of God’s true character. It’s an opportunity to examine our own hearts, our own attitudes and see how they measure up, compared to God’s.
I don’t know about you, but I still can’t comprehend God’s mind, His love, His ways. I suppose I never will. Yet, I want to keep trying. I want to keep seeking the mind of God, so that little by little I might be transformed into His image. I have a long way to go. But a journey of a thousand miles begins with . . . yes, that’s right.
A single step.
Dear Father, I don’t understand Your ways, but I want to. Please help me to accept Your ways even when I don’t understand them. Help me to become more and more like You with each small step.