“But the Lord replied,
‘Is it right for you to be angry?’”
— Jonah 4:4
I love the story of Jonah and the big fish. It has nuances of storms seizing the boat and terrifying the heart, of being swallowed up in the sea and belched up on the beach, of crying out to God and being heard – but not as we’d like.
From the belly of the fish, Jonah prays for the presence of God, asks for salvation, and gets it. Jesus tells us that the story of Jonah teaches about His path to the cross and the grave; Jonah was in the fish for three days due to his sin, and Jesus was in the grave for three days due to our sin. Then, like Jonah, Jesus came out of the grave. God’s power and presence was real and Jonah experienced it, but what about the purpose of God?
Jonah was reluctant when it came to the purpose of God, which was to call the people of Nineveh from idols to the living God. Jonah asked, “Is this not what I said when I was still at home?…I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God…a God who relents from sending calamity” (Jonah 4:2).
Jonah wanted God to be different: a god who is for Jonah and against others; a god who is a grumpy guy, not a good neighbor; a god who is a mirror reflection of—guess who—Jonah.
Are hard hearts all around us? But is our own heart harder still? Are idols all around us? Do we just hate it when laws are changed, when the definition of things that have been building blocks of society are changed? Do we hate it so much that we start wondering when God will show His judgment in order to show that we are right, always have been, and always will be? In this case, are we making up a god who is like us?
“You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love” (Jonah 4:2). It is God’s purpose that we are like Him, not that He is like us. It is in prayer that we embrace His purposes so that our attitudes and actions reflect the grace and compassion of God.
1. Do you have a desire to see God extend grace and compassion to people who are unjust, cruel, and oppressive?
2. What might God be asking of you in terms of your attitudes towards others?
Franklin Pyles pastored churches that served inner-city neighborhoods, taught theology at Canadian Theological Seminary, and pastored in Owen Sound, Ontario before serving as President of The Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada for twelve years. He continues his preaching and teaching ministry at McMaster Divinity College.