How Big is Your God? - Jonah 4

K   |   May 31, 2021 

This month at IndiAanya is Bible Book Focus Month! We are journeying through the book of Jonah in a series of posts.

By the time I get to chapter four of Jonah, I am thoroughly sick of the mean spirited and self-centred prophet. By this time, we have seen him run away from God, sleep his way through a natural disaster, try to orchestrate “suicide by sailor”, sort of repent, and finally, half-heartedly obey. There is absolutely nothing redeeming or attractive about Jonah. And sadly, chapter four doesn’t change that at all.

At the end of chapter three, we left Jonah one day’s walk into Nineveh surrounded by repenting Ninevites and a merciful God. Even the Ninevite cattle were responding to God’s incredible mercy. And that made Jonah mad.

To understand Jonah, it is helpful to step back and remember a couple of things.

First, the Ninevites were really, really, really bad people. Barbaric is an understatement for the violence they brought wherever they went. They were an active threat to Israel’s continued existence in the promised land.

Second, by the time of Jonah, the Israelites had managed to rewrite their story into one where God chose them because they were better than everyone else. The idea that they were blessed to be a blessing to others (Gen 12:1) had been forgotten by most Jews who had reduced Yahweh to no more than a regional god. In Samuel’s days, the Israelites had wanted a king so they could be like the other nations (I Sam 8:5), and now they wanted a small and comfortable god like other nations as well.

Jonah, however, clearly knew Yahweh better than that. He might have wanted a god who was just for his people and against his enemies, but he knew that Yahweh was more, which is why he was mad. In chapter 4 v 2, he tells God

“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.”

Like Jonah, I often want to reduce God down to a manageable size. I want a god who sides with me, who makes my life better, who fixes the wrong things in my life and who leaves me in control. I don’t want a God who shows mercy to my enemies, who allows pandemics to impact the church as much as unbelievers. That kind of God is very inconvenient, unpredictable and somewhat scary.

In the 1950’s Biblical scholar JB Phillips wrote a book called “Your God is too Small”, where he argues that we find God inadequate for our current lives because we have a picture of God that is more suitable for a five-year-old than an adult. To live in a world as complex as the one we inhabit, we need a vision of God far more complex than what we understood as children.

But embracing such an image of God requires that we are willing to allow God to love our enemies and do good to those who do us the most harm (Luke 6:27). The former friend who spread lies about us, the colleague who ensured we did not get that promotion, the corrupt official who would not approve our request, the spouse who cheated on us are all possible recipients of God’s boundless mercy. Are we willing to surrender our pain, our longings for justice and vengeance and allow God to be loving and merciful to those who have caused us pain?

Jonah was not. As the story continues, it is clear that his own comfort is of more importance than the eternal destiny of the people of Nineveh.

Jonah’s story ends not with a resolution but with a question

“You pity the plant, for which you did not labour, 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 4:1-11

What are your boundaries for God’s mercy and goodness?  A helpful place to start answering this question is to look at your prayer list.

Who do you not pray for? Who does not deserve God’s mercy? Who can you never imagine repenting?

Unlike Jonah’s story, ours has the possibility of a great ending. We can choose to pursue God’s mercy on behalf of those who are our enemies. We can seek God’s favour for those who would not currently seek it themselves. We can be the voice of God to a world that is lost and needs his grace and mercy.

How big will you allow Yahweh to be?

 

Photo by Keenan Barber on Unsplash

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K

K is an Aussie transplant who has lived in North India for the last two decades. Her biggest buzz comes from being able to help others to learn and to enjoy a deeper relationship with Jesus. K can frequently be found in one of the cafes in her adopted home city drinking hot chocolate since real decaf coffee has yet to make its way to India.

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