Thursday, October 08, 2009

Exceedingly Angry

How do you feel when someone comes to faith? What do you do when someone becomes a believer and joins the church? It's almost a silly question, isn't it? Of course we would be celebrating that someone has been saved and added to the kingdom. Of course we should echo the party in heaven and the joy among the angels when the lost sheep is found.

Yet, it doesn't always happen. Think of the Pharisees in the Gospels. The tax collectors and 'sinners' are flocking round Jesus, and they don't like it. They have 'older brother' syndrome - when the Prodigal returns, they protest and refuse to welcome him. Is that how we feel too? You know, we've been going to this church for fifty years, our parents and grandparents before us for ever and ever, Amen. We don't want to see new people joining, who are maybe different to us - they'll bring the tone down, or they'll not understand our traditions, or they'll want to change.

They could be from the wrong part of town, the wrong social class, the wrong jobs (if they have jobs at all), the wrong age (too young or too old). Or horror of horrors, they could be... foreigners - immigrants!

Jonah, after the most successful prophetic ministry in the whole Bible, displays this same older brother mentality, which, as we'll see, was there from the start. Jonah has proclaimed doom, the Ninevite people have repented, and God has relented. A cause for celebration? A festal thanksgiving of praise to God for his rich and abundant mercy?

Well, not quite. Jonah has a face like thunder, and if looks could kill, there would be no saved Ninevites left standing. Despite what has happened - and that all very good - 'it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry.' The people of Nineveh rejoice, and Jonah scowls. He wishes he hadn't come at all. He doesn't want to be around for the party, he wants to see the doom coming.

So Jonah prays. Not in the way you would expect. Here's what he says:

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. (4:2-3)

He knew the character and name of God - gracious, merciful, loving - and this was the reason why he tried to flee in the opposite direction! He knew that when God proclaimed doom the people would respond, repent and be saved. And he doesn't like it!

Can you imagine that a prophet of the LORD doesn't want to see people being saved? How much must he hate them to not want to tell them of God's grace, and then when compelled to proclaim it, is angry that they find joy and deliverance? And that to the extent that he would rather die than see them happy?

What a challenge to all of us, but particularly to gospel workers - do we long to really see people saved, even people who don't match up to our standards or culture? Do we love our gracious God, and the people we're sent to? Do we rejoice or mourn when people are saved? Hard questions to consider, yet urgent, pressing ones as we consider our motivations and our sinful prejudices towards other people groups.

Jonah is angry, and God asks the question: 'Do you do well to be angry?' Is it right to be angry when people are being saved? Jonah, plumb the depths of your heart and see if you are sinning or righteous in your anger. The question will be asked again, but we'll come to that tomorrow.

Do we rejoice in the character of God, and in salvation for the ends of the earth? Or are we narrow, racist, sectarian, seeking salvation only for people like us - as if God is limited to the people of Ulster, or those of the prosperous west, or men, or older people.

'You are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.' All praise to you, Lord God!

1 comment :

  1. this speaks to the heart of the book of Jonah in my opinion.