Unforgiving Jonah

May 5, 2000
by Alex Bisset

Jonah 4:1-2 – But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, "O Lord! Is this not what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing." (NRSV)

As I was driving along the highway one day, a white sports car came barrelling up behind me at a tremendous pace and swung out to pass. I was driving a little over the speed limit myself, but the teenager in the white car shot past me like I was standing still. The car disappeared from view in no time, and I muttered to myself that there was never a police officer around when you wanted one.

But about ten miles further on, I noticed the same white car sitting at the side of the road, with a police car pulled up behind it. The officer was writing up a ticket. I'm sure that one cost the driver quite a bit. "Aha!", I said to myself with a grin, "It serves the idiot right!"

Later, while reading the book of Jonah, I recalled this incident, and compared my feelings toward the driver of the white car with Jonah's feelings toward the people of Ninevah. Jonah told God that he did not want to go to Ninevah because he knew that if he warned the people of Ninevah to turn away from their wicked ways, they would probably do so. And Jonah knew that because God is forgiving, if the people of Ninevah did turn from their ways, God would forgive them. To Jonah's mind, this was more than the people of Ninevah deserved. Like all of us, Jonah wanted to be forgiven when he did something wrong. But like many of us, Jonah was not quite ready to see that same forgiveness extended to others.

Yes, the driver of that car deserved a speeding ticket. But was it right for me to be so smug about watching him get what I thought he deserved? We want God to be abounding in love toward us, while at the same time ready to punish others. But we should remember that in the Lord's Prayer, we ask that we might be forgiven, as we forgive others. This also means that we should forgive others, as we ourselves would want to be forgiven. And in the end, that means that we should pray that God will forgive others, just as we would have God forgive us.

Prayer: Gracious and merciful God, we are grateful that you are slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. All this is more than we deserve. Amen.

About the author:

Alex Bisset <wabisset@rogers.com>
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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