[May 30]—Lessons From The Tree

Jonah 4

            We’re not exactly sure how the Lord did it, but somehow he made it clear to Jonah that he was satisfied with the city’s repentance and that he’d forgiven them.
            And Jonah reacted in a way that I’m sure absolutely no evangelist out there ever would. Most evangelists or missionaries or other ministers I know would be discouraged by a lack of positive response. If they saw what Jonah saw, they’d be thrilled. No, they’d rub their eyes to make sure they weren’t dreaming. No, they’d. . . well, I’m not sure how they’d react, but they sure wouldn’t act like Jonah did.
            He saw that the people repented, and he knew his theology pretty well. He knew from Moses and the Psalmists that the Lord is the “gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” Remember, there was absolutely nothing wrong with Jonah’s theology, what he knew about the Lord.
            The problem was his heart. He hated the Ninevites so much that he let that blind him to some things he might not have considered. My first question to him would be "Uh, Jonah, you knew that the Lord is ‘gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love’? You don’t even have to know your Bible to know this about him: You know it in your personal life. When you rebelled and ran away from what he called you to do, he forgave you and gave you your instructions 'a second time.'"
            But he wanted forgiveness for himself and his own, not for his enemies. In his mind, that was too far.
            We might condemn him, but I think a quick condemnation might be a sign that we haven’t really wrestled with the implications of God’s grace. If someone molests children and asks forgiveness, will Christ forgive him? What about someone who rapes an elderly woman and sets her on fire (which some people have done)? What about someone who tortures an innocent person for the State? If they repent and ask forgiveness for Jesus’ sake, will he forgive?
            Yes. Something about that really bothers me, but yes, that’s what the Bible unequivocally teaches. And I know that there are people who can’t accept that, and one of the talk-show hosts I love to listen to—Dennis Prager, who’s a practicing Jew—says that this is one of the main reasons he can’t accept Christianity. It's unthinkable to him to the Lord would just let someone off like that.  And my response to him would be “Well, Dennis, with all respect, you accept the Old Testament, so what about Nineveh?”
            Let’s see God’s response to Jonah. He simply asks him “Is it right for you to be angry?” And the answer to that question is “No.” He doesn’t have the right to be angry. He'd sinned against the Lord and deserved death as much as anyone. But his self-righteous attitude wouldn't let him recognize the depth of his own sin, so instead of answering, he stormed off in a huff. He walked outside the city and sat down to watch what would happen, undoubtedly hoping against hope that he’d see a replay of Sodom and Gomorrah.
            The Lord graciously provided a plant to shade him, probably a castor oil plant. Jonah was happy about the shade, still perfectly happy to accept God’s goodness but unhappy about seeing his enemies getting it. The Lord then provided a worm to destroy it, and again Jonah was baking in the heat. Then we come to the final recorded conversation between God and Jonah.
            He asked Jonah almost the same question as before, but this time he’s more specific. Jonah was angry about Nineveh being spared, and then he was angry about the plant. Let me paraphrase the Lord’s response: “Jonah, this was a plant. I caused it to grow overnight, not you. And I caused it to die. And you were concerned about—let me remind you—a plant. But I created each and every one of those people down there. I fashioned each and every one of them in their mothers’ wombs. They bear my image, and that makes them infinitely precious to me. There are at least 120,000 people down there who don’t really know right from wrong [which might be a reference to children]. And if you don’t care about the people, Jonah, don’t you at least care about the animals?”
            How did Jonah respond to this? Well, it’s not recorded, but we know his story, so this was recorded as Scripture, so Occam’s razor would seem to dictate that we get this narrative from Jonah himself. If so, then that’d mean that apparently Jonah repented of his self-righteous and cold-hearted attitude. At least I hope so.
            But no matter how he responded, it should be obvious how we should. We must, we must  do two things: A) repudiate any illusions of self-righteousness, and B) take on God’s attitude towards the lost. He doesn’t want anyone to perish, but all to come to repentance. Will you join me in this?

Yes, Lord, by your grace, I will. Clean out any stink of self-righteousness, and give me your eyes towards the lost. 

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