Not enough love [2]

Now, last time we started thinking about why Jonah ran away from Nineveh, and why Jonah was angry and wanted to die. And the reason I have started this series -- which I admit I have not outlined ahead of time, so I don't really know how long it will be -- is because while I love Paul, and empathize with Paul, and who is it that blogs that doesn't want to someday be considered like Paul, the chief of sinners, I am probably like Jonah. I think my first real spiritual insight into myself after being saved was when I realized that I am exactly like Jonah.

Now, here's how I'm not like Jonah the son of Amittai: I don't hear from God audibly and receive marching orders from the dispatches of heaven. I'm a good baptist and I confess that the gifts have ceased even if I do not confess that God never does any miracles anymore. So my first insight into the Christian life was not that I am a prophet.

What I first realized about me as a Christian was that I am still afraid of God. Think about that: here I am, a guy who has received only blessing and mercy from the Almighty Creator of all things, and I am still afraid of Him. Now, in some respects, many people would rightly say, "Hey cent: the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, so good on you." But that's not what I mean at all.

I have a healthy fear of the Lord in terms of His right and ability to judge me, and in that I know I am still humble before Him as a sinner. But what's actually really scary, really gut-turning to me about God is that He's going to ask me to do something which I will hate to do and refuse to do because it offends me.

For example, some day God is going to lay it on me that I have to make nice with Dave Armstrong. In theory, that day is here already -- because in principle, you should love your enemies and do good to those who do evil to you. But I'm not even remotely convicted by that. God has far more immediate matters for me to attend to, and those are even more scary than trying to find a way to make peace with DA.

Another example is that God has laid that stupid trailer park on my heart. It's like 30 trailers, and I can't even force myself to drive through there yet. And when I even walk past it, I can smell the cigarettes and see the trash cans full for beer cans ... brother. God wants me to talk to them? And tell them about Jesus? Couldn't we start with Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace or something -- I mean, they need forgiveness and all that, but they're not like me. I say words like "bifurcated" in normal conversations, and I read books -- can't I be a minister to the kids on the campus of the John Brown University instead? Don't kids at a Christian college need Jesus, too?

So look: in Jonah I see a guy who is like me. He wants to be a minister to God the way he wants to minister to people and not necessarily the way God wants him to minister to people, and not necessarily to the people God wants him to minister to. And he's serious about it. He's a prophet to Israel, darn it! He's not going to Nineveh -- Nineveh?! where the King of Assyria lives?!? -- and tell them that God is planning to judge them! God ought to judge them! They're sinners! Let them die in their sin! Look at all the beer cans in their trash, and can't you smell that cigarette smoke? Look: I'm going to Springdale to preach against the sins of FBC Springdale and University Baptist for cathedral-building and legalism, and let somebody else who cares preach against Nineveh.

And look at how Jonah preaches to the Ninevites when he actually goes: "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" Judgment, baby! Wrath of God -- just like Christmas! oh wait -- we don't want to tell them that. Wrath of God like Sodom and Gommorah, dude! Fire from heaven! No mention of repentence, no mention that God might think twice about this: get convincted by the judgment, and then when your city falls down you're all set. Thank you, Jesus.

Jonah does not say, "Judgment is coming so repent", but only, "Judgment is coming". God's judgment. Because He didn't want the Ninevites to get any bright ideas. God told me to tell them they are under judgment, and that's it: that's all I'm going to do. "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" That way I can be faithful, and I don't have to worry because God going to deliver judgment. He said so.

And that's fine, I guess -- Jonah says his bit and then goes out if the city to watch the excitement. Kinda like the Grinch, but in a far more prophetic way, I am sure. Much more dignified and holy. "That's a noise," grinned Jonah, "That I simply MUST hear!" So he paused. And then Jonah put his hand to his ear. And he did hear a sound rising over the snow. It started in low. Then it started to grow...

Listen: if I was the king of Assyria, the things I could understand would be war and judgment -- because I am good at war, and I run a tight ship. What I say goes, and what I expect is that I'm going to do what I said I was going to do. We don't read the Five Disfunctions of a Team in my court -- I killed that guy because he was boring me to death with his blah blah blah about "trust". You know what I trust? I trust that when I tell my executioner here to cut your head off, he'll do it and not ask me about whether to use the big axe or the small one for your scrawny little MBA neck. And then everyone will trust me to do what I say.

But in that, the king of Assyria knows that God will do what He pleases. All the pomp of his court will not impress God anymore than the pomp of the house of David impressed him, the Assyrian king, when he came and plundered those so-called sons of Abraham. So if God is going to render judgment on Nineveh, what's the only course of action?

If I were the king of Assyria, I'd do what I expect the weak and puny kings around me to do when I come with my army and send in the messenger that I am here to clean house: I expect them to beg. If they want to keep anything at all, and not pay a dear price for resisting me, I expect that they treat me like I can do what I say I can do. So listen: you people remember that 5 Disfunctions guy? If you don't want to end up like him, beginning right now, do as I do and beg God to spare us. He's sent this messenger to us who says we have 40 days, and we have already lost 3 days because this guy walked from front to back, so close the businesses, close the market, and get out the sack cloth and ashes. And to show I'm serious, I'm going to do it too -- because if God is coming to judge us, the only thing we have to show is our plea for mercy. he can do whatever he pleases.

In that is Jonah's complaint to God: "Let me die, because I know you show steadfast love." Listen: Jonah's complaint was not, "God, you promised to smote the evildoer, and you squelched -- you broke your promise! Now that I know God is a promise breaker to Israel, I just want to die!" It was, "I knew it—when I was back home, I knew this was going to happen! That's why I ran off to Tarshish! I knew you were sheer grace and mercy, not easily angered, rich in love, and ready at the drop of a hat to turn your plans of punishment into a program of forgiveness!" (MSG, since I have been disavowed by the Truly Reformed)

Jonah is sick unto death because God is rich in love, and that love is the foundation of forgiveness! See: I want God to be this God who is easy to understand, and transparent to the sinner who ought to just either be struck by lightening or whatever, and if I threaten them with this God of War against evil, I also expect they will not turn from their evil ways. They will get what's coming to them, and amen: the Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.

But God's plan is not to put the world to death! I mean, can anyone say amen to that? In this specific incident, God has poured out mercy to the enemy of Israel! When I act like my first goal is to make sure that people are only scared of hell, and that only the Glory of God in justice is demonstrated to them, I am the worst kind of fundy -- the worst kind of stupid, narrow-minded, one-note systematic donkey that can ever represent the cross of Christ.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves here. Jonah was mad at God for sparing Nineveh, and God said to him, "Jonah: Doest thou well to be angry?" That is, "Jonah: is that the right thing to do? Is that what this is all about?"

And God sends this vine to teach Jonah a lesson. A vine. That's where we're going to pick up next time.