God’s Compassion Is No Big Fish

Most people know the whale of a tale found in the book of Jonah. Whether it be through Veggie Tales or from some other media, the story of Jonah and the whale is a common childhood tale. Children love the dramatic and quirky. So a giant fish swallowing a man, and then the man living inside the fish for a few days qualifies.

In our series on being Rooted in the Prophets we studied this story of a man who rejected God’s revealed will. However, the most important point in the story is not the miraculous fish without deadly acidic juices in its stomach. Instead, it is a man who could not give up his hatred of his enemies even when those people were going to change their wicked ways.

Jonah was sent to the Ninevites, a people revered for their cruelty and wickedness. The comparison that can adequately parallel their wickedness in today’s climate is the wickedness of ISIS. Jonah’s task was to go and preach God’s judgment on the Ninevites, with the purpose being that the citizens of Nineveh would turn from their evil ways and follow YHWH. God had compassion on them, even though their wickedness was great. He wanted to give them an opportunity to turn from their wickedness.

This is where we need to stop.

Many times people want to separate the Old and the New Testaments as if there are two different gods found within the Bible. One is a wrathful and angry god of the Old Testament, full of rules and without mercy. The other is the nice god of the New Testament, offering hope and peace to people who are nice. The problem is that neither picture is accurate. In the book of Jonah we meet a kind and compassionate God who does not relish sending destruction on people. Instead, he sends a messenger with news of hope in the face of impending destruction. God did not have to give them a second chance. Nineveh did not deserve a second chance. Their wickedness deserved punishment.

But God allowed them the opportunity to turn. It would be similar to a Christian missionary going to ISIS today and preaching a message of impending doom to the soldiers. The missionary would only do this with the hope of repentance in the soldiers. God does not delight in the death of the wicked (Ezek. 18:21-23). Even people that have committed horrible atrocities are welcome by God if they turn from their ways in truth. Jonah longed for God’s judgment but he knew God was compassionate and willing to forgive (Jonah 3:10-4:3). So, he ran away from his task because he wanted his enemies to die rather than change.

We become so hardened toward people that we would rather see them burn than change. Rather than taking the stance that God does and hope for change in people, we write them off and deny God’s power to melt frozen hearts. It is a denial of God’s ability and love of the hatred you cling to. Wanting justice is not wrong. God will call all men to account for their actions. However, compassion is as much a part of God’s character as justice. He gets to decide the timing for His actions.

Do you give people a second chance? Do you mirror God’s heart in praying for repentance before judgment?

-Pastor Sean