Remember that time John was stuck in prison and he sent his friends to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
Or what about that time when the disciples of John came to Jesus, and asked Him, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?”
Or how about that time Jesus told everyone, “Y’all have to eat My flesh and drink My blood, or else you can’t have eternal life!” And Jesus’ friends said, “Who can listen to this?! This is offensive!”
It seems like we shouldn’t know about any of these scenarios. If people knew that people like John, and John’s buddies, and the apostles had doubts and disagreements with Jesus then it would imperil people’s faith!
As anomalous as it may seem, God insists that we be honest with Him about our doubts and disagreements. And believe it or not, it is actually through wielding our doubts and disagreements in wrestling matches with God that we experience the strengthening and robustifying of our faith!
Bottom line, God decides what gets published as Scripture, and all throughout the Bible we see people candidly conversing with God about their deepest doubts and disagreements.
Perhaps is this nowhere more dramatically displayed than in the story of Jonah. The ‘venerable’ prophet Jonah, with the most flagrantly irreverent candor, declares his dissent with God’s decision to show mercy to the Ninevites!
Jonah is exceedingly displeased with God! Jonah seethingly says, “This exactly why I was right to disobey you God! Because I knew You would relent from pouring out Your wrath on Nineveh! You’re too soft! And if that’s how you’re gonna be, then you might as well kill me!”
We’re not commanded to celebrate Jonah’s outrage, but we’re definitely being forced to see it! We are certainly being compelled to experience the awkwardness and edginess of this argument between Jonah and God. Because, God insists on honesty
And if God insists on honesty, that means the “everything’s fine” “too blessed to be stressed” “easybelievism” vibes we send are unhealthy. Y’all know the vibes I’m talking about… The “I’m a pious, well-dressed, happy person, and of course everything Jesus says makes perfect sense to a sensible person like me” vibes.
What if you had crossed paths with Martha at the grocery store the day after Jesus rebuked her for serving Him? I imagine Martha would have some ‘less than pleasant’ things to say about Jesus’ response to her perfectly reasonable request for help from her indolent sister!
Or what if you ran into Andrew on the day Jesus excluded him from the transfiguration field trip?! I imagine Andrew might say something like, “This is ridiculous! I’m the one who told Simon about Jesus. Why should he be included in Jesus’ BFF, exclusive, core group; and I’m relegated to life with ‘the other 9!’ What kind of partial/preferential nonsense is this!?”
And this how you feel a lot of the time. And God KNOWS you feel this way, and therefore God tells you these stories so that you’ll know He wants you to be honest with Him, because God wants to meet you where you’re really at. God will not tolerate a pretentiously pious disconnect between our real lives and what God is so clearly and consistently showing us in His Word.
Now, while God insists that we be honest with Him, He does not therefore commend a celebration of our opposition.
In addition to His insistence that we be honest, He also insists that we agree with Him. He doesn’t want feigned agreement, but He absolutely insists upon authentic agreement.
So God’s genuine question for Jonah is, “Do you do well to be angry?” God insists that Jonah really reflect on his defiant posture. God mercifully gives Jonah time and space to examine himself and how he’s feeling. The fact that God doesn’t simply destroy Jonah highlights God’s insistence that we be brought into alignment with His agenda (Isa.55:8; Mic.7:18). We see God doing this same thing with the first representative of the human race after he committed high treason against God; instead of striking down Adam, God asks him, “Where are you?” This is not a question about Adam’s physical location, this is God insisting that Adam reflect on his life choices and the current condition of his soul.
God doesn’t want to destroy us. God wants us to embrace His merciful promise to save us! (2Pet.3:9)
And perhaps the most dramatic (and certainly the most intrusive) proof of God’s insistence on us agreeing with Him, is the fact that He invades us with Himself! God the Holy Spirit irresistibly (i.e. without our consent) takes up residency inside us and compels us to cry out to God for help (Romans 8:15, 26)!
Bottom line, God insists on showing us mercy!
It’s crazy to think about the scoundrels we’ll cross paths with in heaven! One of the most brazen scoundrels in Scripture is Jonah, and based on God’s relentless efforts to prevail on Jonah with His mercy, I expect to see Jonah in heaven. So when I’m hanging-out with Jonah in heaven I plan on asking him, “What’s your favorite Jesus mini tale? (a.k.a. parable)?” And I my hunch is that he’s gonna say, “The parable of the self-righteous, mercy-hating, older brother.” I’m guessing that Jonah will get emotional as he talks about that scene where the dad leaves the welcome home party for his younger son, to go have a long-suffering conversation with his hardheaded, hog-hearted, older son who is pouting on the porch and vehemently protesting the mercy being shown to his kid brother. I imagine Jonah will joyfully say, “Our Father is amazing! …That story is about me!” I imagine Jonah might start involuntarily reciting that part of Paul’s letter to the people in Rome where he says, “God has consigned all to disobedience, so that He may have MERCY on all! Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments & how inscrutable His ways!“
And then I imagine that Jonah will say, “God’s mercy is so profound and paradoxical, He actually used me (of all people) as a sign pointing people to Jesus!” And I’ll say, “O Yeah, you mean that time Jesus said, ‘Just as Jonah was 3 days and 3 nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be 3 days and 3 nights in the heart of the earth!'”? And Jonah will say, “Yeah, that part, but also the fact that, ‘Just as Jonah looked at the sinful Ninevites and demanded that – if God was insistent on showing mercy to such wretched people – He would have to kill His prophet; so Jesus would look at wretched sinners like us and insist that God kill Him!”
It’s a staggering, and completely anomalous, signpost! Just as Jonah’s choices prior to being swallowed by the fish were completely different than Jesus’ choices prior to being put in the tomb; so the defiant sentiment with which Jonah demands to die in light of God’s desire to show mercy to sinners is completely different from the heartfelt sentiment with which Jesus insists on laying down His life as the complete and conclusive ransom for undeserving sinners (Matthew 20:28; John 10:18). Whereas Jonah sought death in light of the idea of dwelling in a world where Ninevites were allowed to live; Jesus sought death in order to ensure His future eternal union with redeemed sinners as His wife! God provokes us to fixate on Jesus Christ, who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, scorning its shame, and is now risen, ascended, and seated at the right hand of the Father!