Children can be demanding. In any public space, we can often witness a child’s demands: I want that! I want it now!
On the other hand, we can also see polite children. That is, if we watch, we can see a child say Please, and then when she receives something, say, Thank you.
This latter example shows accepting something with appreciation and joy. In the Bible, we see God at work in the world and with humanity. Often, people work in concert with God or with God’s prompting and guidance. For example, in the Minor Prophet Jonah, the main character Jonah is called by God to deliver a prophecy.
Jonah’s story is familiar to many people and one of my favorites. Instead of doing as he is called to do, he goes the opposite direction. He runs away from God, is thrown from a ship in storm, swallowed by a fish, spit up on the beach, and after repenting, he goes where God called him to go.
For children, it is a great Bible story. Many children especially enjoy the part about Jonah being swallowed by the fish. However, it is not simply a child’s story; it is a story about being obedient, accepting God, and following where God leads. Jonah has a deterministic view of God. This means he sees God or his interpretation of God as unchanging. In other words, God promised to destroy the people of Nineveh, so there had better be some fire and brimstone raining down from the sky!
Jonah wants God to act like a character in a children’s story. However, something totally different happens. The people of Nineveh repent. They turn away from their evil ways and God forgives them. Jonah does not like this at all. He is upset with God for forgiving the Ninevites! He says, “I knew this would happen! You are a gracious God and merciful and abounding in love!”
The story of Jonah and Nineveh leads to a happy ending. Everything is going to be okay, but Jonah’s response is like a demanding child: I thought I was going to see fireworks! I thought they were going to get their comeuppance! I was ready for a real donnybrook!
Nothing happens. There are no fireworks. Instead, God forgives.
How difficult is God’s grace to accept sometimes? Are there people or situations that are just too difficult to let go? What if God forgives the other person? Are we not also supposed to forgive them? Are we willing to accept God? Are we willing to let God forgive us? Sometimes accepting God’s forgiveness is the difficult first step toward forgiving others. For Jonah, accepting God with joy was too much. He could not stand God’s love because it went out beyond him and included people like the Ninevites!
Jonah teaches us something profound about the nature of God. God offers redemption, the chance to turn or repent, to everyone, including the people we would rather not see in the Kingdom. This can be a hard lesson, but it can challenge us to be more loving. Instead of being upset with God’s love and forgiveness, we can say, I knew this would happen! You are a gracious God and merciful and abounding in love! Make me more like you. Let me be gracious, merciful, and abounding in love.