Scripture Reading: Jonah 4:1-11, Acts 11:15-18, Romans 5:6-11
The final chapter of Jonah gives us a unique glimpse into a conversation between God and His prophet. The majority of prophecy depicts the prophets relaying God’s message. Here, we get to see the struggle between the reluctant prophet and a faithful God. I’m almost uncomfortable with Jonah’s level of irreverence, confessing he is angry that God has been merciful. It’s cringe-worthy.
And yet, Jonah was not the first, nor would he be the last, to express discontent with God’s mercy toward a wayward people. In fact, Scripture is full of stories like this. The older brother in the parable of the prodigal son is angry at his father for throwing the rebellious sibling a party (Luke 15:11-32). The Pharisees are angry at Jesus for not following the law like they think he should (John 9:13-16). The disciples are concerned when Jesus addresses a Samaritan woman, someone whose ethnicity and gender signified a person to avoid, not converse with (John 4:1-24).
We like to belong, and we like to decide who doesn’t belong. They deserve God’s mercy. They don’t. They do. They don’t. Maybe this is why I cringe at Jonah’s anger; because I’ve seen that same anger in me. I’ve seen it on a personal level when blessing and favor are poured out on someone’s life whom I don’t feel “deserves” it. I’ve also seen it on a more global level when I generalize an entire people group as “evil” or “lost,” beyond God’s redemption.
This sin tendency was in Jonah, and it is in me too.
How quick I am to forget that I was an outsider once! As Romans says, “For while we were still helpless, at the appointed moment, Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). I was ungodly—as evil as a Ninevite. It is only because of God’s mercy through His Son Jesus that I am now in the family as an adopted child of God.
I think it’s interesting that God has the last word in the book of Jonah. We don’t know what Jonah’s response was to God’s question, “Should I not care about the great city of Nineveh…?” (Jonah 4:11). But we know what Jonah’s answer should have been. We see it modeled much later in the story, in the book of Acts.
Peter is trying to convince his fellow Jews that Gentiles can indeed follow the way of Christ. He tells the group that he saw the Holy Spirit descend on a group of Gentiles, just as it had descended upon them. When Peter’s audience heard this, Scripture says, “they became silent. Then they glorified God, saying, ‘So God has granted repentance resulting in life even to the Gentiles!’” (Acts 11:18).
Perhaps they fell silent in awe. Perhaps they fell silent in skepticism. We don’t know. What we do know is ultimately, instead of feeling anger toward God, they glorified Him. They rejoiced that His mercy reached further than they had ever fathomed it could.
Oh that our response would be the same. That we would never underestimate the breadth and depth of God’s mercy. That we would rejoice every time His mercy blesses someone around us, remembering that it was this same mercy that welcomed us into His family. And that it is only by grace that we remain.