Let us go ahead and level the playing field: we are all clueless to some degree. We all need help. We all need grace. It does not matter which demographic you represent; you need grace and mercy. We are grace-dependent creatures.
You may want to read:
- Rick’s Articles On Jonah
- Why Hate the Sin, But Love the Sinner Can Be Bad Theology
- Should I Separate From Sinners?
Husbands – When I get angry at my wife, I am having a theologically detached moment (TDM). I am partially clueless. I need God’s intervention in a big way.
Wives – When a wife nags or disrespects her husband, she stands in need of God’s redemptive care. Though she may be somewhat mindful of her actions, she is also clueless regarding the scope of her efforts to help her hubby.
Children – We know they are clueless. When it comes to children, I think most of us understand their own need for patience, long-suffering, and forbearance.
Unregenerate – How about the unregenerate individual? Does he fully comprehend his offense against God? Grace is his need. Spiritual ignorance is his condition.
Regenerate – Even those of us who have been born again do not fully understand the depth of our need for daily grace and mercy.
This reality is not an exhortation to let people off the hook, so they do not have to be held accountable for their actions. It’s an admission of truth: we are not fully aware of God’s thoughts. We need help. We can be clueless. We need God’s intervening mercy.
And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” – Luke 23:34
You see this idea of cluelessness in the words of the Savior as He was dying on the cross. I am sure the people of that day felt assured of what they were doing. Not so, from God’s perspective; they were woefully clueless and needed Him more than they imagined.
Clueless In Nineveh
Cluelessness is the point that we have reached in our study of Jonah. The last verse of the book of Jonah provides the key to the whole book while appealing to Jonah, and to us.
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 4:11
Because Jonah did not answer the Lord’s question–the book ended abruptly—the problem is left dangling on the end of a short story about a hard-hearted man. We are left to speculate about how Jonah answered the question.
We can also speculate about ourselves. How would you answer the question: should the Lord pity the clueless? Should the Lord pity you? The context of the book and the exegetical implication of this verse seems to say the Ninevites were a clueless people. They did not fully understand what they were doing and stood in need of the Lord’s merciful intervention.
If you read the whole book in one sitting while trying to understand the point, it seems the Lord wanted to help the ignorant Ninevites, and He was using a clueless man to carry His message to a clueless people.
The Lord said these people did not know their right hand from their left hand: they were clueless. The Lord had been appealing to Jonah to participate in His redemptive rescue of these wayward and blind people.
From the first two verses of the book, the Lord was thinking about these people and their need for Him. From the beginning to the end, we see God as a relentless, grace-giving, mercy-offering Redeemer.
Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” – Jonah 1:1-2
Jonah is a self-centered and angry prophet who would rather die than see the blind Ninevites enjoying the grace of God. He wants them to stay clueless and lost.
A Relentless Redeemer
Jonah preferred to die rather than to live in a world that extends grace to his enemies (Jonah 4:3). What was implied in the first three chapters is said explicitly in chapter four. God comes as the wonderful Counselor and the relentless Redeemer, asking Jonah some questions (Jonah 4:4).
Jonah did not like his question-asking God, so he left the scene to sit under a shelter. He hoped to take a “wait and see” attitude–to see what happens to the Ninevites. There is no question about what he was hoping for: it was not pity, mercy, or grace.
The gospel irony in this passage is that the Lord was showing the same kind of mercy to Jonah that He was showing to the Ninevites. God was not just a relentless Redeemer for the Ninevites. They were not the only clueless people who needed His help.
We are all clueless to some degree, and we all stand in need of God’s mercy. God would not let the Ninevites go, and He was not about to let go of His prophet.
- Even when you run from God, He runs hard after you.
- Christian, even when you give up on God, He will not give up on you.
I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. – Romans 9:15
The only thing in this story that is more shocking than Jonah’s sin is God’s grace. God refuses to give up on Jonah. Nobody will be as patient and kind to you as God will. No matter what your sin, God’s grace is greater still.
When You Blow Off God
And the LORD said, “Do you do well to be angry? – Jonah 4:4
Jonah blows off God’s question and leaves the scene. But his sinful action does not deter God; He comes back to him another way–He gives Jonah a plant to make him happy (Jonah 4:6). Jonah seems to have it made in the shade.
Then God comes right back and takes away the plant. Jonah loses his comfort, and he wants to die. Again (Jonah 4:8). In the beginning, God appointed a storm and a whale to get Jonah’s attention. Though it was a wake-up call, it did not change him.
In this passage, God appoints a plant and a worm to get the prophet’s attention. Jonah was happy with his plant, and things were going well. When the worm came along, Jonah was back to being mad. What Jonah did not seem to understand was how the plant and the worm were used by God to draw out his anger.
The Lord was turning up the heat, using one of His tiniest creations. Do you see what was happening to Jonah? He was an angry man. The longer he resisted God, the more upset he became.
Even the little discomforts of life were becoming significant annoyances. When you continue to blow off God, you will continue down a self-destructive path to where anything and everything will cause you anger. Take note of Jonah’s sinful progression:
- God gave Jonah a plant. Jonah was happy–verse 6.
- God appointed a worm for Jonah. Jonah was unhappy–verse 7.
- God sent an east wind to Jonah. Jonah wanted to die–verse 8.
Do you see the progression of sin for the angry man? What are we talking about here–plants, worms, and wind? Jonah was coming unglued. He was a mess. The smallest things were setting him off in anger.
This problem was not so much about the Ninevites anymore as it was about Jonah’s worship dysfunction. You are the cause of your misery.
But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” – Jonah 4:9
God kept asking Jonah questions. He wanted Jonah to see how this was not primarily about a pagan people getting saved. Jonah could whine and whine about the Ninevites, but he was missing the point.
If a man goes from being angry at a people group to angry at worms and plants, I think we can safely conclude he is an angry man. Jonah was the cause of his misery.
His anger was not primarily about what was happening in his external world, but about what was happening inside his mind. Your anger and my anger are the same. When we go from anger over big things to anger over little things, we have bigger problems than we realize. These little things are God’s small ways of teaching you about His extravagant grace.
Isn’t this how most arguments go? You get angry at a traffic light, not realizing your anger is hurting your wife, your children, and possibly other motorists, not to mention defaming God’s name.
- You get angry over spilled milk, and your children are left to absorb the mess of your sin.
- You lose a paper due to a software malfunction, and three people are on the receiving end of your sin.
- Your wife disappoints you again, and you let her have it—and we are only talking about a little disappointment.
- Your husband says something unkind, but at the moment the heat of his words negate the redemptive possibility you could exhibit.
One of the more common misplaced affections is the jostling of our comfort, which was Jonah’s problem. There was an entire people group going to hell and Jonah was worried about his happiness in his lean-to.
A significant difference between the way we can love and the way God loves is that He will always value people over personal comfort. Worms and plants are not the objects of His affections, but they can be ours.
Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. – Romans 1:22-23
Here are a few plants and worms that can get in the way of our affection for people. These are some of the things that can mean the most to us, even to the point of sinning against God and others.
The city of God is a place where the inhabitants love people and walk on gold. The city of man is a place where the inhabitants love gold and walk on people. – Augustine
Where Are Your Affections?
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. 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 4:10-11
The entire book of Jonah comes down to this final question. If Jonah cared so much about a plant he had nothing to do with, shouldn’t God care about a lost and hell-bound city of people?
Nineveh Is Clueless
They have gone astray. They have lost their way. Without God, they have no idea what it means to live for Him or each other. The book stops with an open-ended question. We do not know how Jonah answered this problem, but the open nature of the question leaves us with a similar appeal.
Shouldn’t I care about the people who are considered to be enemies of God?
Let’s get personal. Are you okay with the fact that God is passionately concerned for and wants to show grace to people you cannot stand? The way God is interacting with Jonah seems to indicate how the presence of enemies in his life was not random.
God was inviting him into a deeper understanding and experience of His grace. God, the question-asker, was exploring Jonah’s heart, helping him to understand how the enemies of God could be used redemptively in his life. What about you?
- Who is the toxic person in your life?
- Who is the annoying person in your life?
- Who is the adversarial person in your life?
- Who is the bad person in your life?
Be careful how you think about them. If you are more focused on what they did and who they are, your starting place is in the wrong place. Jonah was consumed by the Ninevites, but could not see himself.
If your first thought is what they have done to you rather than what you have done to Christ, you will not be able to think and act redemptively toward them–especially at the moment when you need to respond redemptively.
This backward thinking is what happened to Jonah. He could clearly tell you what was wrong with the Ninevites, but he seemed to have amnesia regarding how he saw himself. If the gospel were actively guarding his heart and mind, he would have begun redemptively rather than reactively.
Years ago, I asked a lady to tell me how her husband had failed her. She met this first question with a list that went on for about five minutes. When she finished, I asked her to tell me how she had failed her husband. She met my second question with a perplexed and blank stare.
She went from articulate to dumbfounded in a matter of seconds. If this is how you think about others, especially those who have hurt you, redemption is not your goal. The gospel is not the primary thing in your life.
Your Enemy Is God’s Kindness
Maybe your enemies are not obstacles to keep you from growing in grace, but means by which you can grow in grace. You will know if they are obstacles by how you think about and respond to them.
- Jonah focused on the Ninevites’ sin.
- God focused on the Ninevites’ need for mercy.
- What is your focus regarding the clueless?
Sometimes our enemies are God’s instrument of grace to draw out who we are and what is wrong with us. Your enemy could be the brightest mirror of the brokenness that is in your soul.
If God’s grace is unconditionally extended to His enemies as He brings it to you, how should you think about God, your enemies, and yourself? Are you okay with the fact God may want to use your enemy to change you?
The clueless need your help, not your scorn. If they do not get God’s mercy and grace, they will pay for their sin one way or the other. It is kinda cool that God would allow you to be part of His redemptive work. Assuming you’re not a runner like Jonah.
Also published on Medium.