Jonah 4:1-3 (ESV)
1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. 2 And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. 3 Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
“I just can’t accept that God would…” As a pastor, I hear that line begin more sentences than one might think. As people study the Scripture and see the true revelation of the God who created us, people often find God’s picture of himself difficult to swallow. “I just can’t understand why God…” is often the precursor for an explanation of how we think God should do things instead of the way that God has done them.
For an example of this, take a look at Jonah. God sent him to Nineveh. Jonah rebelled and ran away. God took action and sent Jonah to Nineveh with his message. Jonah reluctantly preached. The people of the city repented. God relented and rescued the people. And Jonah, for his part, was angry.
Look at the words above. God’s salvation of a huge population of people, people who were not nice people, infuriated Jonah. Jonah, in accusing God, says that he knew God would do something like that. Jonah knew that God had revealed himself as merciful and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. In this case, Jonah simply did not like who God was and what God chose.
If you can’t figure Jonah, remember that the city of Nineveh represented a brutal empire. The Assyrians were known for overrunning their enemies, conquering other nations, burning, torturing, and destroying. The Ninevites were a godless people, a people whom Jonah thought ought to be destroyed. So, when God has compassion on them, Jonah simply does not like it.
Where do you decide that you do not like how God has revealed himself? Where do you act like Jonah, actually turning up your nose from God’s description of his plans and his ways? Do you hate the concept of hell? Does God’s chasing after a people from all nations bother you? Is it election and predestination that draws your ire? Is it the fact that God’s commitment is to his glory and not to our wealth? Is it God’s standard of holiness? Do you love the New Testament but not the Old? Which part of God do you, Christian, not like?
Don’t think, by the way, that you can escape this being true of you somewhere. We all have things we wish that God had done differently. We all have things that we read in Scripture that we simply cannot grasp. We all have commands of God that we battle against or simply ignore. But in doing so, we prove that our hearts are not yet fully devoted to the person of God as he has revealed himself in Scripture. A major part of our sanctification is our learning to embrace who God is as he has revealed himself and to embrace what God commands. After all, God’s commands and his actions are the very reflections of his heart. God commands us to love him, and that requires that we treasure all that he is and all that he does, even when his ways are higher than ours.
Today, it would be good to think about who God has revealed himself to be. As you think about God, ask God to help your heart to truly love him as he is. Ask God to help you to submit to the Scriptures and to embrace all that God has done. Command your own heart to love God, even when you cannot yet grasp why he does what he does. If God does something you cannot understand, assume that God is right and that your heart needs to learn to see things from a more God-honoring perspective. Instead of being a Jonah, being angry enough to die because of who God is, ask God to soften your heart and make you embrace all that our perfect, righteous, merciful, holy God has revealed.