For many, Jonah is a familiar Bible story. The book of Jonah is indeed a great work of literature, a condensed narrative, a fantastic story, and also an uncomfortable mirror into our own lives. God asks Jonah to go preach to Nineveh, but he runs in the opposite direction. God sends a storm, and then a fish to swallow him and let him mull over his decision before spitting him back on land for a second run at the original request.
But why did he run in the first place?
|He prayed to the Lord and said, “Oh, Lord, this is just what I thought would happen when I was in my own country. This is what I tried to prevent by attempting to escape to Tarshish! – because I knew that you are gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in mercy, and one who relents concerning threatened judgment.|
There are times we are disobedient because we cling to an idol and choose to believe lies about God, but Jonah disobeys precisely because of what is TRUE about God (that he is compassionate and forgiving). Jonah wanted grace for himself, and judgment for his enemies (don’t we all, like James and John, quick to call down fire on others in their rebellion—see Luke 9:53-55). And so God’s question there in the end is one for all of us: Should God not show compassion to OUR enemies?
I’ve seriously considered the question lately. I believe I can say I, “I’m at peace with God saving members of ISIS,” (perhaps the equivalent of how a Jew would see an Assyrian). But I’m also not a guy who has tasted war with the enemy, and had personal friends murdered at my side by hateful men. Nor have I had family members beheaded for their faith. To me, ISIS is a disconnected, theoretical enemy, not a personal one (and that in itself is problematic). But are there not individuals from whom I withhold the good news, withhold my prayers?
If I’m honest, I believe so. By my silence, I have purposely done as Jonah, and attempted to withhold salvation from another. I have judged. I have despised. I have hated (whom the Lord said love, Matt 5:44).
I am just like Jonah. I may know the truth about God, but I have chosen to believe a lie about myself: That I am better than “those people.” But the truth is, while I am Jonah, I am also Nineveh. I have forgotten, I was once an enemy of God. Worse still, I have devalued God in that moment, forgetting that my transgressions amassed an immeasurable debt because they are against an infinitely valuable God. And I devalue the precious blood of Christ, so freely given, but yet such a lavish and priceless gift.
Thanks be to God, “Salvation belongs to the Lord” (Jonah 2:9). Now may I obediently go forth in joy to do His service of truly loving my enemies.