The Forgiveness of God Runs Deep
On the surface, the ever-popular Bible story of Jonah and the whale is loaded with tension, drama, action and dangerous extremes. It’s easy to miss it’s deeper truths which contrasts human nature with God’s nature. The shallow side of our own human nature has judged Jonah as a cowardly, hardheaded, disobedient prophet but overlooked the glaring truth that we, too, are just like Jonah.
A lens of self-examination is one we should view the book of Jonah through—to see our own stubborn, unforgiving, selfish nature in the light of God’s gracious, forgiving nature. We must keep in mind that we, also, have been assigned the mission to reach out to hurting, broken and sinful people. So, let’s ask ourselves how we can use this story to better share the Good News of God’s love with people we don’t like.
As we begin the story of Jonah, it is clear that the people of Nineveh were notoriously wicked, which was one of the reasons Jonah wasn’t thrilled about heading there. The Bible doesn’t go into much detail about the sins of Nineveh, but we can gather from the first few verses that they were a barbaric bunch. In other words, Nineveh wouldn’t be our first choice for a vacation spot, or even for a missions trip. If your church announced that there were openings to go on a dangerous mission trip to share the Gospel with the drug cartel in Columbia, there probably wouldn’t be a long waiting list of people eager to go. So it’s easy to understand Jonah’s reasoning for running from God’s assignment.
Our default theology can be like Jonah’s at times—a very shallow and selective understanding of God’s grace. Jonah wanted God’s grace for himself while he was in the belly of the whale, yet did not approve of God’s grace for the people of Nineveh. He wanted to see them pay dearly for their sins. We are like Jonah in the sense that it’s easier to forgive and bless someone we dislike than it is to watch God forgive and bless them. But true forgiveness goes beyond us being the ones doing the forgiving. True forgiveness asks God to be the One to do the forgiving. One of the hardest prayers for us to pray is “Father forgive them.” In Luke 23:34, Jesus asks the Father to forgive the very people who were crucifying him. On the surface it’s easy to say “I forgive you” to someone who has mistreated us, while deep down we really want God to “get them” somewhere down the line. Let us be resolute in our hearts to forgive deeply the way Jesus did that day on the Cross—which is possible only by the Holy Spirit living inside of us.
God’s forgiveness keeps reaching for us in our fallen and broken state, and helps us perpetuate that forgiveness by how we love others. The primary way we experience and share God’s love is through Jesus. God sent His one and only Son to pay the ransom for each one of our sins before we were even sorry for them. Jesus suffered so we wouldn’t have to pay the price of our sins. This incomprehensible love shows the immensity of God’s forgiveness. Because we often fail to forgive ourselves and others around us, it’s hard to grasp how God can forgive us. But when we accept Christ as the Lamb of God and believe His blood covers our sins, we must also understand He died for our least favorite people—those who hurt us, those still walking in sin, and those far away from Him. God wants our forgiveness to run deep like His and He will give us the strength to forgive.
Be encouraged by the story of Jonah and confident that the Holy Spirit will fill our hearts, leading us to reach out to the over-looked and forgotten ones we think are too far from God’s grace with sins we think are too great to forgive. The more we explore the depths of God’s love and grace, the more God’s love and grace will flow through us to others.
—By Melonie Howard & Simeon Young, II