26 September 2012

I Feel Sorry for God

by Frank Turk

So look: in Jonah I see a guy who is like me. He wants to be a minister to God the way he wants to minister to people and not necessarily the way God wants him to minister to people, and not necessarily to the people God wants him to minister to. And he's serious about it. He's a prophet to Israel, darn it! He's not going to Nineveh -- Nineveh?! where the King of Assyria lives?!? -- and tell them that God is planning to judge them! God ought to judge them! They're sinners! Let them die in their sin! Look at all the beer cans in their trash, and can't you smell that cigarette smoke?

And look at how Jonah preaches to the Ninevites when he actually goes: "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" Jonah does not say, "Judgment is coming so repent", but only, "Judgment is coming". God's judgment. Because He didn't want the Ninevites to get any bright ideas. God told him to tell them they are under judgment, and that's it: that's all he’s going to do. "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" That way he can be faithful, and he doesn’t have to worry because God going to deliver judgment. He said so.

But God does something else here which Jonah says he knew all along was God’s intention: God spares the Ninevites.

In that is Jonah's complaint to God: "Let me die, because I know you show steadfast love." Listen: Jonah's complaint was not, "God, you promised to smite the evildoer, and you squelched -- you broke your promise! Now that I know God is a promise breaker to Israel, I just want to die!" It was, "I knew it—when I was back home, I knew this was going to happen! That's why I ran off to Tarshish! I knew you were full of love, and grace, and mercy, and patience, and ready to forgive!"
4 And the LORD said, “Do you do well to be angry?”
The Hebrew there is, “It is right that this burns you?”  And that’s a fair question: how is it, exactly, that Jonah is grieved because God loves sinners?

You know, this problem comes up in other places in the Bible.  In Malachi, God chastises Israel because Israel has given up all hope that God will judge the wicked – because he shows patience with the wicked.  They think God is a slacker because the wicked are not judged immediately.  Mal 2:17 says,
“You have wearied the LORD with your words. But you say, “How have we wearied him?” By saying, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and he delights in them.” Or by asking, “Where is the God of justice?”
And then it comes up again in Luke 18, phrased a different way:
The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.
It’s sort of darkly-funny that a people who are themselves so unable, unwilling to keep the Law can be also so intent on making sure God is judging other people.  And that is God’s point in questioning Jonah: I had not idea that Me loving Sinners was so deeply horrible to YOU.
Jonah, unfortunately, doesn’t get it.
5 Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city. 6 Now the LORD God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. 7 But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. 
And then [Jonah] asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” 9 But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” 10 And the LORD said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”
Jonah was mad at God for sparing Nineveh, and God said to him, "Jonah: Doest thou well to be angry?" That is, "Jonah: is that the right thing to do? Is that what this is all about?"

Jonah, apparently, knew that when God is calling forth judgment, He is also extending an offer of clemency -- that is, the willingness to forgive for the repentant. In Jonah's words, He's a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. And that has Jonah in a bunch -- in fact, he'd rather die than think about it any more.

And God, sparing the Ninevites after He has also spared the disobedient Jonah from the belly of the big fish,  says to the prophet, "Is that being angry good for you?" Really, I'd feel sorry for God if He wasn't the Universal Creator and Sustainer, the Sovereign of all things -- because He's always got to explain himself to people like Jonah. And Us.


Chris Wei said...

I really, really like this post. I worry that when we forget this lesson, our efforts in ministering to our neighbors, and in promoting inter-faith dialogue, are frustrated by our own pride.

God loves everyone, including those who don't understand Him. He yearns to spare them. And we should yearn likewise.

Bill said...

Chesed leads to Hallelujah!

Anonymous said...


I love your post (not so wild about the title, though--can everyone say "CHEESE!"?). Admittedly, we are odd creatures; we have an irrepressible desire for unflinching justice despite the fact that the hammer of justice would fall on us! On the other hand, we love the idea of mercy, so long as it is not given to those who have hurt us.

Perhaps we shouldn't be too hard on ourselves, though. Can any human really understand the wonder of real, true justice and mercy coming together? We may, by God's grace, believe it and trust him to accomplish it, but I doubt we are capable of comprehending it.

Linda said...

I could sit under your teachings all day Frank. You are sucha blessing~

And that's the thing about GOD, it’s that in spite of all I don’t understand about God and his mysterious ways, I get so frustrated like Jonah because things don't go (my way)according to (my plans) and I want to give up. Then like Jonah I get frustrated in myself and want to run from God.

The most amazing thing about the Lord is He runs after me and won’t give up on me. It seems very important to HIM to prove to me from time to time that I matter to HIM and I am valued and loved. He gives me hope to get back up and walk with HIM and to follow HIS Ways.
God's ways are definitely not ours and his thoughts are definitely not our thoughts.

Jeremiah Greenwell said...

Micah 7:18

Scandalous, isn't it? That a righteous God not only forgives sin but delights to forgive sin is a divine mystery.

Herding Grasshoppers said...

Mercy for me, and justice for you.


To my shame, I see that in my own heart. How dare God be gracious to them.

David A. Carlson said...

So, how does Jonah impact your concept of Atonement?

Rachel said...

There's a LOT in this, and it's going to take some time to digest it all.

It's always a good reminder to us to acknowledge we are still sinners in the midst of other sinners, and no one is 'better' than the other or more 'deserving' of God's grace. We're all just as fallen as the person next to us. It has nothing to do with our performance or merit (which will never be enough), and everything to do with grace.


FX Turk said...



Linda said...

@ Rachel~

I agree

Chris H said...

Dac: I was going to ask if you ever find a post the point of which you do not miss entirely.

But I see Frank addressed your question already, so I'll leave that with him.

threegirldad said...


You'll have to come up with a better answer than that before this time next year.

No worries, though. The correct answer--"42"--will still be available.