Recently I had the privilege of presenting at the International Association of Biblical Counselors annual conference in Denver, Colorado. I had a wonderful time interacting with friends, colleagues, and participants both at our table and in the workshop time. As an added bonus, my wife and I drove down to Colorado Springs to visit some friends, see some sites, enjoy some Ethiopian food, and visit the headquarters of the Christian and Missionary Alliance (our church denomination). During our visit to Colorado Springs we worshiped with The Clay House, a C&MA church in town and I was struck by how timely the pastor's message was. The sermon was from Jonah chapter four, now I must admit I haven't spent a lot of time in Jonah, at least in my adulthood, but one thought from that message struck me as it pertains to the work we do.
* Jonah Wanted Wrath Not Repentance
“He prayed to the Lord, “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
I appreciate Jonah’s anger here and I can relate to his frustration with the attributes of God. Grace, compassion, patience, and love are inconvenient virtues when, like Jonah, we want judgment on our enemies. A few years ago I was attending an event for domestic violence awareness month and a friend of mine introduced me to some folks around the table and when one individual gathered what my role on the team was their words and demeanor became less than kind. You see, this individual had strong thoughts regarding ‘appropriate’ responses to perpetrators, all of which were unrealistic and most were cruel. I listened though and didn’t offer much push back to them. I believed that this person was speaking out of great hurt and nothing I could say would soften the thought that our psycho-educational classes were somehow, “letting men of the hook.” Believe it not I encounter similar thoughts and attitudes from within the Christian world. In fact, many of the challenges and quite frankly attacks I have received for the work I do rushed through my head as the pastor said, “Jonah is content, in so much as he can dispense the judgment of God, but furious at the thought of God’s mercy, but you rarely have one without the other.”
We Preach Repentance - This is what we do. I can make no apologies for teaching and calling folks to repentance. Repentance does not, and I have been clear about this, negate consequences for sin, guarantee restoration of relationships, remove accountability, or demand immediate trust. If we are called to Nineveh then I’m suggesting we must preach repentance, and in doing so let’s be clear regarding the severity of God’s judgment without despising the availability of His mercy.
Note: I know for a fact that many folks who deserve justice have not, as of this post, received it. I am aware that churches and ministries have sinfully punished victims and rewarded perpetrators. We must guard against the temptation to demand only judgment as a means of satisfying the sins of the past. Repentance, mercy, and hope should remain in our vocabulary.
Was it Jonah’s poor view of God that led him to disobedience and despair? Actually, it seems he has a clear picture of God and it was in fact God’s character and the potential for mercy that angered Jonah.
Have you ever been there? Have you wanted fire from heaven so badly that when it didn’t come you’ve settled for fire in your own spirit in the form of hate, anger, or despair?
“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 4:11