Angry at Grace
Grace is unpredictable. It gives strength, but demands weakness. We are sustained through difficulties by grace, but also led into affliction. It offers mercy to our enemies as quickly as ourselves. In the arms of grace we are comforted and frightened. One such bewildered recipient of that grace was Jonah.
The book of Jonah seems to have become a prophetic caricature. The images that usually surface in our minds when thinking of this book are probably the cartoon whales we colored as children. However, the furious grace of God in this powerful little book is transforming. Jonah’s anger at God’s steadfast love in the first few verses of chapter four is personally convicting because I sense echoes of my own bitterness in that indictment of God’s character.
But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, “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.”
Are we really comfortable with a gracious God? Can we accept that the grace we have been afforded is also extended to those who have wounded us so deeply? Are we prepared to take the gospel to the ninevites of our lives?
The entire book is full of transformative truths, if we will open our hearts and minds to read it at the level of the imagination. (A Michael Card phrase) However, the conclusion of the book is more about our own outcome than Jonah’s. We are left to wonder what happened to the stubborn prophet, but more importantly to sense what is happening inside us. It’s an almost amusing scene as Jonah, angry at grace, sits hoping that perhaps judgment will still destroy the city of Nineveh (Jonah 4:5). This prophetic pouting poses haunting questions to us. Have we bitterly obeyed God and resented His graciousness? Have we sat in the shade of our self-concocted plants and hoped that wrath would consume the world as we look on? Have we preached repentance and failed to repent?
The answers to these questions expose us. We don’t want to be exposed. We would rather sit in shady disdain. But, the comfort of that shade is nothing in comparison to the frightening and glorious comfort of God’s grace.