Everybody loves to experience God’s mercy because we don’t want to receive punishment for our actions. Then there are times when God gives His kindness to those we don’t like. That’s different because His goodness is a problem for those we dislike.
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Biff messed up his marriage. He authentically repented. God forgave him. Now he is asking his wife to forgive him. His wife is unwilling to forgive. She is still angry at Biff. She says she has forgiven him, but it is not true. She is using Christian-speak to justify her actions, but the proof is in the actions–she is not actively pursuing the reconciliation and restoration true forgiveness implies.
The pinnacle of Christian maturity is when the offended party not only forgives the offender but encourages and allows the offender to be part of the restoration process. Think Christ here.
We sinned against the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. You and I were guilty. Because of the gospel, we had the privilege of repenting of our sin and God released us from all guilt and condemnation (Romans 8:1).
We, the accused, were made free and the Father placed our deserved punishment on Christ. You and I committed the highest crime in the universe. The Offended chose to be part of our redemption, but the story is even sweeter.
We can now join the formerly offended Christ in the restorative work of the gospel. The offenders–you and I–can now cooperate with the Offended (God) so other offenders can hear the same message that set us free. Amazing grace.
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. – Ephesians 5:1
For to this, you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. – 1 Peter 2:21
Gospel Illustrated – When Paul was Saul, he had Christians put to death because he hated them. Then Saul became a Christian and began to work with those he persecuted. His new friends were nervous about his conversion, but their faith in God was exemplary.
They accepted the newly named Paul and dedicated their lives to partner with him on God’s gospel mission. This response is what the gospel can do when we want what God wants. Imagine if the offended Christians held on to their offenses against Paul.
- Are you willing to forgive?
- Are you holding on to anger?
- Anger reveals your practical theology
But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. – Jonah 4:1
Jonah was a man who struggled with joining God on the mission. It was hard for Jonah to rejoice in the Lord’s work, especially when the Lord’s work brought change to people toward whom Jonah harbored a lousy attitude.
Isn’t this how it goes for us when we will not let go of something? It is easy to interfere with the work of the Lord when our attitude toward others is evil. In these situations, we do not desire what God desires.
What did Jonah want? He answered that question for us. Jonah did not want the Ninevites to receive God’s favor. He did not like them and was displeased that they had turned to God.
I am not sure if Jonah was fully aware of this, but his displeasure in God’s work was a commentary about God. He was revealing his practical theology by his dissatisfaction in what the Lord was doing.
Sinful anger is a negative commentary about God as well as an accusation toward God. Sovereign God was the One who granted repentance. The king of Nineveh could not experience forgiveness unless God chose to forgive him. God showed favor to the king, but Jonah was displeased with what God did.
A person who harbors anger, while withholding the redemptive purposes of God, is at odds with God. The Lord became an obstacle to Jonah because He was not cooperating with Jonah’s desires. God was redemptively pursuing the Ninevites while Jonah was rebelliously pursuing Tarshish.
Think about all the times you chose anger over redemptive purposes. Wasn’t it for the same reasons as Jonah? You were not getting what you wanted? If anger and redemption are our choices, Christians should always think redemptively first.
Because we serve a Sovereign God, we can think redemptively. He is in control of all things, even the evil Ninevites. Our job is to pursue redemptive constructs and solutions while leaving wrath and judgment to the only One who can administrate such things righteously and justly.
There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? – James 4:12
When (Christ) was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. – 1 Peter 2:23
When you choose sinful anger over redemptive purposes, you are no different from the person who is sinning against you. Note how the same evil that characterized the Ninevites also described Jonah. The literal reading of Jonah 4:1 is,
It was evil to Jonah with a great evil, and it burned within him.
The Ninevites were evil and Jonah’s sin was equivalent to their evil. The Hebrew writer wanted the readers not to miss the point. Perhaps your spouse has sinned against you. Did you respond in sinful anger?
Though your spouse’s sin was heinous against God, your sinful attitude against your spouse was just as appalling against God. Jonah is a mirror for the humble to see themselves clearly. Do you see yourself in Jonah?
Biff needs a redemptive construct to continue to mature, which can happen if his wife will think more about what God is doing in her husband rather than how she would like to punish him.
No Sin Stratifying
Biff’s wife needs to see how her sin against her husband is no different from his sin against her. “It was evil to her with a great evil and it burned within her.”
Who is going to stratify sin as though one sin is better than another person’s? Wouldn’t that be an odd conversation to have with the Lord?
Dear Jesus, I lied, but I never hurt anyone.
Jonah had that conversation with the Lord, which is the implication of his displeasure when juxtaposed with the gospel. There is a precedent for this kind of self-righteous attitude in Scriptures.
“God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” – Luke 18:11-14
You could try to make the “consequential argument”–your sin is not as damaging as his sin. That tactic would be self-righteous posturing. I am sure the sin of the Ninevites caused more damage than Jonah’s sin, but the offense against God is the same (Romans 1:29-31; James 2:10).
The posturing angry person seeks to justify his anger self-righteously, while still hoping to punish someone else because he does not like them. And, for the record, we are all murderers: the death of Christ was because of us.
Self-righteous posturing is an elevated view of self and a low view of God and His works. Jonah had a greater-than/better-than attitude. The bottom line was Jonah did not see himself as bad as the Ninevites and he was displeased with God.
When God Doesn’t Come Through
- There can be moments in our lives when God’s love seems wasted.
- There can be moments in our lives when God’s power seems mishandled.
- There can be moments in our lives when God’s grace seems cheap.
You will know you are caught in the “Jonah trap” if your displeasure with someone outweighs your redemptive thoughts of someone. Jonah would rather have seen God’s judgment fall on the Ninevites than see them restored.
At least he was honest with God about his sinful attitude. This aspect is what is so profound about this passage of Scripture: his honesty was as striking as it was arrogant.
When you are bold enough to tell God how you rationalized your sin and you are not making plans to change, you are on dangerous ground. Then you, like Jonah, are using “sound theology” to prove your points.
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.
Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live. – Jonah 4:2-3
Jonah, in a matter-of-fact way, tells God why he ran to Tarshish. His decision to run was not impulsive. He made a reflective choice. He did not equivocate with God.
He knew what he did and understood why he did it. He did not play the “devil made me do it” card. He did not like those people and he made no bones about it.
Are you any different? Virtually every time I get angry at my wife, a voice is going off in the back of my head saying something like,
You better stop. You are a fool. Shut your mouth. You know better than this.
And what do I do? I choose to continue in my anger. In that sinful moment, I do not want what God wants because I am displeased with her.
This positioning is what Jonah was doing. If you were to stop him, as he was making his way to Tarshish, and ask him why he was going to Tarshish, he would have told you, “I don’t like those people and I’m rebelling against God.”
(Jonah) said to (the mariners), “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.” – Jonah 1:12
God In My Image
Knowing God as well as Jonah did was not motivating enough for him to stop sinning. You see this as you read how he talked to God about it (Jonah 4:2-3). Jonah’s theology was compelling him to sin. He was right: God is a gracious; God is merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, relenting from disaster. Have you ever thought how the character and attributes of God could work against you?
Every time you get angry, your sound theology is working against you. You are choosing your way over what you know to be God’s way. We all know God can make a path when there seems to be no way, but sometimes we do not want God to do that. We choose anger or displeasure.
Our sinful choices hinder what we know God can do. If Biff’s wife would relent from her anger and begin the process of restoration, she would start to experience what Biff is experiencing–a fuller experience with God.
She knows God can do this for her, but she does not want this, at least not right now. She is choosing to defy her sound theology by holding onto her anger. She is heading into the thick weeds of sin.
Jonah was already in the thick weeds (Jonah 2:5). You see this by how he used his theological training to justify his sin. He told God how merciful, loving, gracious, and forgiving He could be to the Ninevites. Jonah wanted God to be like him and was frustrated because God would not budge.
You can tell when you made God in your image when it turns out He hates all the same people you do. – Anne Lamott
Jonah was incapable of extending the grace he had received when it was time to give it to those whom he did not like. Though he was glad to receive mercy from the Lord, he wanted justice from the Lord for those he did not like.
The Deep, Deep Love of God
“O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the LORD said, “Do you do well to be angry?” – Jonah 4:3-4
- Jonah was not living out the grace he had received.
- Jonah was twisting Scripture to rationalize his sin.
- Jonah was not going to be happy if God helped those people.
- Jonah would rather die than see them redeemed.
Jonah was so bothered by it all that he wanted to die, which should bring all of us to a choice. Are we going to continue to hold on to our displeasure against others or are we going to pursue redemptive solutions? Will we choose spiritual death or spiritual life?
If you are struggling with anger or bitterness toward someone, consider this as God’s gentle, loving care to you. Even after all of Jonah’s running, God was there to ask him a self-reflective question: do you have a good reason to be angry?
Though Jonah was not persevering, God was staying with His prophet. God is a wonderful Counselor and a relentless Redeemer. The Lord was working on Jonah, trying to gently provoke Jonah’s heart awake (Hebrews 4:12-13, 10:25). God wanted to give him another opportunity to reflect, to respond, and to repent.
The same patient love the Lord was showing Jonah was the same patient love Jonah should have been teaching the Ninevites. His response was to go outside the city, give God the silent treatment, and sit in his lean-to while remaining convinced that he was justified (Jonah 4:5).
Jonah forgot that every day of his life was dependent on God’s persevering love. Though you were made alive (regenerated) and God is sanctifying you, the fact is you are still living in a body tempted by sin.
Even as the weeds of sin want to wrap around your heart, the Spirit is working in your life. God operates this way. He is patiently working until He completes what He began (Philippians 1:6). What can you do?
Take your displeasure to God. Do not run like Jonah. The solution is for you to go to Him and express your weakness–your anger, bitterness, displeasure, and unforgiveness—while seeking His tender mercy. Be honest.
Admit you do not understand what He is up to and how He can work. Ask Him to rescue you from yourself. Become more convinced of what God wants than what you want. Let the story of Jonah be a redemptive example for you.
Also published on Medium.