I don’t know about you, but I find this human being stuff rather difficult at times. Everybody doing their own thing, their own way is a silly, wasteful and painful way to live. Life would run much smoother if everybody would just do things my way.
I also notice that God tends to do things his own way. Without even consulting me, he upsets my whole plan. A daughter becomes a drug addict rather than the doctor or school teacher I had planned. A spouse dies just about the time retirement comes around. God never asked me if I would like to have cancer, which is rather rude of him.
God doesn’t do things my way. Yet the world would be a nicer, sweeter home if I were in charge.
Look at Jonah. He didn’t want to go to Nineveh to prophecy that after 40 days, God would destroy the city of Nineveh. Let me correct myself. Jonah very much wanted to proclaim the destruction of Nineveh, but he wanted it to actually happen.
Nineveh was the key city of the Assyrian Empire, an empire that ruled through death, destruction and terror. Assyria was a threat to Israel, and so Jonah wanted it destroyed.
But if you recall the story, rather than eagerly marching off to Nineveh to prophecy its doom, Jonah ran the other way and tried to hide from God. He didn’t want to go.
Jonah’s flight from God caused him to be caught in a major storm at sea and eventually be cast overboard by the ship’s crew. Jonah was then swallowed by a fish for three days, until God finally had the fish cough him up on the beach.
Still, despite his own wisdom, the reluctant Jonah ended up in Nineveh anyway. He prophesied to the city as God instructed that after 40 days it would be overthrown. But he seemed to forget to mention that if the city would repent, their lives would be spared. But somehow the leaders of the city figured that out on their own, and they declared a fast and a time of sorrowful prayers. Who knows, they thought, maybe this repentance thing will work and God will spare the city.
To Jonah’s utter dismay the people of Nineveh repented. And the leaders were right! God changed His mind and spared the city. And this made Jonah furious! He went to the outskirts of Nineveh, sat down in the dessert heat and wanted to die when he saw God was not going to destroy Nineveh. And in Jonah’s mind, if anything needed to be destroyed it was Nineveh!
But God didn’t go along with Jonah’s plan. And Jonah suspected all along that God wasn’t going to do the sensible thing and kill every man, woman, child and animal in Nineveh.
You see, Jonah had the inside scoop on God. Jonah had walked with God long enough over the years to know that the Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Jonah had a strong suspicion that God was going to have mercy on Nineveh, and mercy on Nineveh was not part of Jonah’s idea about how things should end with them.
That’s why Jonah tried to hide from God. He wanted no part of showing Nineveh compassion or mercy. Whether the people of Nineveh repented or not, Jonah would rather die than show compassion.
But thankfully, Jonah was not in charge of the universe that day. Jonah wanted justice. But God showed compassion.
How many times have I wanted justice? As the saying goes “Jesus said pray for my enemies, so I prayed they would get hit by a bus!” I want justice to be poured out on those people and things that have hurt me, but I want to be anointed with grace when it comes to my own sins and wrongs.
And look at all the pain and suffering Jonah went through. Wouldn’t it have been a lot easier for him to just get in line with God’s program and let go of his own? God told Moses, “I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy.” So shouldn’t we take the hint that our own ideas about who should or shouldn’t be condemned are really subject to God’s decisions?
So, maybe as we prepare to honor Christ’s work of forgiveness on the cross and his victorious resurrection from the dead, we should remember that God is indeed gracious and compassionate and we could take a little time off from our resentments and anger and wrath.
Who are your enemies? Is it The Iranians, North Koreans, or Republicans? Or maybe it is your ex, or soon to be ex, or your son or daughter who’s lifestyle embarrasses you? Or, perhaps God is your enemy.
Couldn’t life go easier if you just let go of that unforgiveness, and let God be God and give him the choice of how he wants to work his justice?
Just for today, regarding those who have hurt you, instead of the bus prayer, try the bless prayer.
The Rev. Robert Hedges is executive director of Resurrection Power of Washington. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.