“Cauliflower, Sweet and Sour, Half an Hour, Veggie Tales”
This song bounced around my head as I flipped my Bible open to Jonah. I remember watching the short video a couple years back with a friend and laughing at the ridiculousness of the story. It was a story that has been engrained into my being. It is almost comedic with how I refer to it almost as easily as I refer to Cinderella or Beauty and Beast. It just doesn’t seem as though it could have been real.
But something in my heart told me to flip to that part of the Bible and to read. The story started out just as I had expected: a man was told to do something, he didn’t listen, he ran, and there was a big storm. Cool. There wasn’t anything new. I had the cast of Veggie Tales dancing before my glazed over eyes and I started to question why I needed to read this. And then something that wasn’t in Veggie Tales came to life from the pages in front of me:
“‘Pick me up and throw me into the sea,’ he [Jonah] replied… Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, Lord, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, Lord, have done as you pleased.’ Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard and the raging sea grew calm. At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him.” (Jonah 1:12-16)
These men were not Jews. They did not follow or believe in the same God that Jonah did. So the fact that they acknowledged the power that “The Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and dry land” held, was monumental here. I looked at this passage and I realized the gravity of the situation. I noticed that even in a time of complete disobedience, God used Jonah to reveal himself to these sailors. He took this moment and shows the sailors his power and his might and as a result, they got to experience up close the amazing nature that God is. He didn’t punish the sailors for throwing Jonah over. He wasn’t even punishing the sailors for being the vehicle that Jonah was trying to use. He protected them. He calmed the seas so that they could see the grace that He provides.
So we go on to read about Jonah being in the fish’s belly. I’m always shocked by how fairy tale this seems. But I’m also in awe of the prayer that Jonah offers up to God. He doesn’t focus on the wrong that he did, instead he declares the mercy and love that God is. He proclaims that salvation that God offers.
Wait you’re telling me that salvation wasn’t just a thing when Jesus was around?
This whole time Jonah knows who and what God is. He appreciates and loves it when everything that God is benefits himself. But he shouts a different song at the end of the story when Nineveh repents and God relents on his punishment towards the city.
“Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? that is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live. (Jonah 4:2-3)
Wow, who peed in his cheerios?
Jonah literally would rather die than to see God show mercy on people that he deemed unworthy to receive it. I’m gonna get all self righteous right here and say “well ain’t he just the perfect little God lover right here”. Now I’m off my high horse, I’m going to confess something deep. I’ve thought the same thing at times in my life. My heart breaks as I say those words. As I realize the magnitude of the judgement, the self-righteousness and religious bias that the reality of once believing that I had the right to dictate who was worthy of receiving God’s mercy and grace, I cower away in shame.
I love how God responds to Jonah though, because it honestly reflects just how gentle and loving he really is. Instead of letting Jonah die, he has a plant grow to cast shade over him until the night comes. He then allows the plant to die overnight. As Jonah cries and complains, God just says one thing “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”. Duh God…Of course it is right for him to be angry about the plant. Jonah responds “I am so angry I wish I were dead.” That’s extreme.
But then God takes it a step further “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left–and also many animals?” (Jonah 4:10-11) In other words “you didn’t even create the plant, yet its death made you throw a fit. I did create Nineveh, shouldn’t its death have angered me even more than the plants death upset you?”
God didn’t want to punish Nineveh. He wanted to give them the opportunity to be redeemed. God loved them. He loved them so much that he provided opportunity for them to be made right with him. Wow. And then you had someone like Jonah, who scoffed and got angry because the loving God wanted to show his true nature of love, mercy and forgiveness to all.
I would like to say that I learned a long time ago that I couldn’t dictate who receives God’s grace. I would like to say that I am always pleased when someone comes to Jesus and accepts that forgiveness that the cross offers. But I’m still a work in progress. I drove home today and I thought about the murderers on death row, and the people that we see charged with rape and murders of children. I wondered if I would rejoice with the angels if they came to Christ. I had to push past my disgust for their ugliness and evil ways in order to see that their soul is still seen as worthy by the all mighty God that I serve. I had to push down my own self righteousness in order to see that I am no more worthy of God’s love than they are.
I hope one day I can look past my bias and that my own humanness can be pushed down so that I can see people in the light of Christ. That I can be driven to love as he loves and to forgive as he forgives. And I hope and pray that I don’t lose out on the opportunity to expose Christ to people because of my own inadequacy to do just that.
Right now I’m nearly at the stage Jonah was at. But I wouldn’t say I’m at the same stage that Jesus was at when he declared “Forgive them father, for they know not what they do.”