By Pastor Andrew Poe
"I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity." Jonah 4:2
Don’t these sound like good, comforting words? God has been a God of compassion and love, faithful to his people since time began. We gain much comfort from these words found in Jonah, don’t we?
But guess who did not gain any comfort from these words? Jonah! This verse is couched in Jonah’s complaint against God at the end of the book – after being in and out of a fish and preaching to the Ninevites and seeing them repent! After all he experienced, Jonah prayed this prayer to Yahweh:
“Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing 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. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
Jonah knew God very well: he knew how loving, gracious, and faithful he would be to those Jonah hated. He hated these people so much that he would rather die than see God spare them. You may think that Jonah was ridiculous for thinking this way; however, let’s stop and think to whom God sent Jonah. Ninevah was the capital of Assyria: the nation that came and destroyed Israel in 732 BC. They were Israel’s cruel enemy. And in a time when God was relentless in keeping His Chosen People separate and protected, he commands his prophet to go and share the message of hope to those who – in Jonah’s mind – should simply be wiped out.
This is uncomfortable isn’t it? God asking his servant to love his enemies – like a Jewish prisoner held in a concentration camp loving his Nazi captor; like an African American slave loving his master; like a Ukrainian civilian loving a Russian soldier; or like a Messiah loving his Roman torturers – those nailing him to a cross. Uncomfortable? Impossible? Insane? That is the kind of love God has! And that is the same love he gives us through his Spirit in order to love others.
For some of you feeling slightly uncomfortable now – just wait! We will be diving into the book of Jonah for our next sermons series! And if you felt uncomfortable with this unappreciative, downright defiant prophet... and the overly compassionate God... just wait! We will be jumping into Nahum after Jonah – when we see how jealous God can be for his people – a God who will bring about justice toward the same Ninevites who turned away and began treating his people cruelly again. Like a big brother coming to rescue his little sister from a bully on the playground, God’s wrath toward those who pour forth violent injustice is so real it can also make us uncomfortable.
So, if you were hoping to get cozy by curling up with a cup of coffee and listen to sweet, comfortable sermons at Covenant for the next few weeks, be prepared! Things may get a little uncomfortable. Yet it is through these uncomfortable stories that we find Christ! The King of kings who came to experience true pain and suffering on our behalf because he loves us with such intensity: this should certainly make us feel a bit shocked if not slightly uncomfortable. But praise God, through Christ’s discomfort we can find true and eternal comfort!
I hope you can join us at Covenant for the next several weeks as we explore the “Whale of a Tale” known as Jonah...and then move into Nahum.