Posted by: 15shekels | November 3, 2009

But Jonah was greatly displeased

jonah3“[Jonah] proclaimed: ‘Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.’ The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth… When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened. But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the Lord, ‘O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee 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, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.'” -Jonah 3:4-5, 10-4:3

We love to feel God’s grace and mercy pouring down upon us. We celebrate his patience, his steadfastness, his fatherly ability to steadily pursue us despite our wanderings, failures, and blackness of heart. We celebrate the truth that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” -1 Timothy 1:15. And usually, we leap at the chance to carry this message to other sinners.

But what about our Jonah moments? What about our encounters with those whom we think have surely sinned just a little too much, or even worse, have sinned against us personally? In such moments we replace the second half of 1 Timothy 1:15 with a modified phrase like, “as long as they haven’t killed anyone or messed with my family.”

Sometimes we are like a 15-year-old girl I am close to who admitted to me in a moment of honesty, “I can’t bring myself to pray that they would come to know Jesus, because I don’t want them to have what I have.”

JonahAt times the book of Jonah reads like a comedy. The account of Jonah effusively giving thanks for God’s grace in keeping him alive in the belly of the whale, is followed almost immediately by his grudging criticism of God’s mercy toward the Ninevites. The juxtaposition makes him look, at best, like a stubborn fool. And yet is his attitude—that he would rather die than watch his enemies let off the hook—really so foreign to us?  Do we ever wish that God would swoop down and punish our tormentors, either forgetting that we deserve punishment too, or like Jonah feeling that it’s worth dying, as long as they are brought to account for their wrongs?

At such times we want more than the earthly consequences for sin, more than the assurance that those who murder usually go to jail. When we are deeply hurt by someone, our reaction is to want justice from the bottom up— from the gates of the schoolyard, up to the gates of prison, all the way up to the gates of heaven.karma_what_goes_around_comes_around_bag-p1498508929166966472w92h_400

We hear it all around us: “What goes around comes around”; “They’ll get what they deserve”; Or the worst by far: “Don’t worry. God sees their sin. He will punish.” And of course, justice is real. God does see their sin. The problem is that he sees ours, too. And in His eyes we are all unworthy, we have all rebelled, we are all separated from him by the sin in our hearts. Jesus pointed out that we are all in the same sinking boat: “‘You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.'” (Matthew 5:21-22) We all deserve punishment.

And yet we try to build a fence around the cross, to keep out those whom we simply can’t stand.

Occasionally we encounter one of those rare individuals who has the ability to forgive and bless her enemies, not only abstractly but specifically. And when we do, we are amazed, puzzled and intrigued.

In Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place, Corrie’s sister Betsie consistently shocks her sister by praying for the Nazi and Nazi informants who persecute them: “What puzzled me all this time was Betsie. She had suffered everything I had and yet she seemed to carry no burden of rage. ‘Betsie!’ I hissed one dark night…’Betsie, don’t you feel anything about Jan Vogel? Doesn’t it bother you?’ ‘Oh yes, Corrie! Terribly! I’ve felt for him ever since I knew [that he became a Nazi informant and turned us in]—and pray for him whenever his name comes into my mind. How dreadfully he must be suffering!'” –The Hiding Place, p. 180

Corrie is baffled by her sister’s ability to forgive such great wrong. She writes that, “Once again I had the feeling that this sister with whom I had spent all my life belonged somehow to another order of beings.” (180)

Two years ago, I experienced a similar bafflement at a woman’s ability to forgive. Except I wasn’t Corrie; I was Jan Vogel. I had carelessly brought great hurt into this woman’s life and was struggling with guilt. Around the same time, I began to learn about Jesus’ love for sinners, and was trying to wrap my mind around the fact that He apparently offered total forgiveness for sins. I couldn’t understand how He could wash me clean. Then I received an email from the victim of my sin that demonstrated the power of the gospel to transform not only souls but hearts as well:

“The only reason I can write any of this to you is because of Christ.  My first reaction towards you… was to angrily demand justice – retribution for my suffering. [But later I realized that] the judgment I wished for you was already selflessly paid in full by the perfect Christ – for the both of us.  I finally understood that the cross is where justice, the death which we all deserve, meets mercy, the grace that we all need, and the only response to love so deep and grace so complete is to completely forgive.”

It isn’t an inhuman ability that allows such women to forgive. It’s a deep understanding of the power of the cross. Jesus paid it all—not only the little debts but the bigger, uglier ones as well. Jesus did more than take our guilt; he also took our anger by paying the debts of generations, and not just erasing them. We have received the justice we so angrily demanded and the sentence has been paid in full, in one afternoon. Receiving the above email shook me to the core and brought me to my knees. And I return to it every time I catch myself grumbling like Jonah.

07_n_deadfolo24_mediumFor whether we identify with Corrie, Betsie, or Jan Vogel, we all bring burdens to the cross. As Corrie realized as she lay in the dark after her conversation with Betsie: “Wasn’t [Betsie] telling me in her gentle way that I was as guilty as Jan Vogel? Didn’t he and I stand together before an all-seeing God convicted of the same sin of murder? For I had murdered him with my heart and with my tongue. ‘Lord Jesus,’ I whispered into the lumpy ticking of the bed, ‘I forgive Jan Vogel as I pray that You will forgive me.'” (180)

We all need the cross. And so I pray that we could meet each other there, bewildered at the lightening of our loads, and turn to each other in childlike wonder and joy. Let’s celebrate together the great love that absorbed all of our guilt and shame, for He offers to take our anger and bitterness as well.


  1. Beautifully said. I read The Hiding Place years ago but just watched the movie this past week. I found it so hard to understand how Betsie could forgive so seemingly easily. One almost feels that she is unbearably naive and childlike. But isn’t that how Christ wants us to come to him?

    “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Mt 18:3-4.

    Betsie humbled herself and was able to forgive her tormentors because she saw them through God’s eyes. I agree that she had “a deep understanding of the power of the cross,” perhaps not in any intellectual way but rather in a childlike way. Her reward was the peace that passes understanding, although she never consciously sought that. She was surrounded by that peace as she died in a Nazi concentration camp.

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