The story of Jonah sees God extending grace to Nineveh. He doesn’t want to leave that great city to the consequences of their many sins – he desires mercy rather than judgement. However, this story also shows God extending grace to Jonah and in many ways this is the focus of the whole narrative. At first glance, it may seem surprising that such a mighty prophet of God should require grace alongside such an evil city as Nineveh. After all Jonah is one of God’s chosen people whereas Nineveh was the enemy and was so obviously in rebellion against God!
Jonah’s rebellion, however, was more subtle. It lay in his heart where it was hidden by the veneer of religion.
Jonah finishes with a question “should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” It is a question that goes to the very root of this whole narrative – the huge divide between the mercy and grace of Yahweh and the lack of love, mercy and grace demonstrated by Jonah. God is trying to get Jonah to see how hard his heart is. He is inviting Jonah to another way of viewing things and living – one that is characterised by love and mercy and grace and kindness – a way of viewing things and living which is in line with what God is like. God wants Jonah, his prophet, to have a heart like his.
The way that God extends grace to Jonah is by plunging him into crisis – he provides a terrifying storm and a very large fish!
There is something about storms and crisis in our life that afford the opportunity for God to reach our hearts and to make us aware of things that we have been too comfortable ignoring. Oswald Chambers says, “When God gets us alone through suffering, heartbreak, temptation, disappointment, sickness, or by thwarted friendship – when He gets us absolutely alone, and we are totally speechless, unable to ask even one question, then He begins to teach us.”
Not every storm is a God engineered storm, but God doesn’t shield us from all the storms of life and every storm can be used by God – particularly to bring freedom. Freedom from attachments, idols and false saviours. Our storms and crisis need never be wasted.
Questions to consider:
- In the story of Jonah, the sailors rush to pray to their idols as the storm hits. They also find that those idols were impotent. What are some of the idols that were exposed to you in the midst of the storms and crisis you have faced?
- On Sunday, I spoke about religious idols – those subtle things that have an appearance of wisdom but actually promote self-reliance and consequently judgement. I mentioned things like: the idol of morality, the idol of certainty, the idol of theology, the idol of successful church, the idol of style and the idol of gifting. Discuss these and consider where you may have fellowship with these idols! NOTE: The Gospel is the complete opposite of self-reliance and judgement. Rather it is “Faith expressing itself as love”. When we put our trust in what Jesus has done for us we are less likely to judge others and more inclined to love – and as a result live lives that please God.
- Do you have a theology that allows for a God who can “provide a storm” in our lives as an act of grace?
- Do you have a theology that allows for a God that doesn’t shield us from every crisis and storm?
- Do you think that God is more concerned with our comfort or our faith – 1 Peter 1:6-7? How would this impact your prayers and priorities?
- Compare the story of Jonah with the parable of the prodigal son that is detailed in Luke 15. Write down the similarities.