Tuesday, December 19, 2017

"Thankfully, God Does Not Always Do What He Said He Would Do"

Jonah 3.10-4.2a

“Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it. But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry. So he prayed to the Lord…” NKJV

“God saw what they had done, that they had turned away from their evil lives. He did change his mind about them. What he said he would do to them he didn’t do. Jonah was furious. He lost his temper. He yelled at God… The Message

Jonah was angry because God did not keep His promise. God told the prophet He would overthrow Nineveh and instead He forgave the inhabitants of this godless city. When the God Jonah served did not perform in the way the Jonah expected, the prophet was steamed. In fact, Jonah was so mad he “yelled at God.” Luckily for Jonah, God is secure in Himself and did not retaliate by blasting the little man to smithereens.  (I yelled at God once. I was so angry I threw my Bible at the wall across the room. No lightning bolts from heaven. I’m still alive.)

In 48 verses the author of this short book describes a redemptive process that transcends the rational mind and leaves the reader with more questions than answers. Jonah’s story wrecks my preconceived notions about the nature of God. I think God should always do what He says He’ll do. But God is apparently free to perform in distinctly un-God-like ways. If I try to place God in a box, even a beautifully designed and perfectly constructed theological one, the tale of Jonah shows how grossly limited my container is. As soon as I have Him figured out, God will surprise, dismay, or even anger me. This divine character trait, of course, can work to my advantage. He may delight, bless, and forgive me when I expect and deserve exactly the opposite.

God is God and can do whatever He wants to do. That is the message of Jonah and the message of Jesus (whose life and calling, incidentally, parallels Jonah’s in more ways than one).[1]

A friend recently told me, “There are only two things you must remember in life: There is a God and you’re not it!” His advice is summarized in a bumper sticker I once saw: “Let God be God”. William Temple, the Archbishop of Canterbury (1942-44) said, “If your conception of God is radically false, then the more devout you are the worse it will be for you. You had better be an atheist.”

Mr. Temple’s advise is bad news for modern day Jonah’s. A narrow, legalistic concept of God simply doesn’t work. Of course, the story of Jonah is good news for Ninevites everywhere. Temple is also quoted as saying, “The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.” More good news for lost Ninevites. Jonah totally missed that part.

Clearly God did not do what He said He would do. He commanded Jonah to preach, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown” (Jonah 3.4). But when He saw that the Ninevites “turned from their evil way,” then “God relented from the disaster that He said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.” Jonah was prepared for the fury of God to be poured out on godless people, but when God didn’t do... what he said he would do,” the prophet became “furious. He lost his temper. He yelled at God.”

I have the same choice Jonah had. We all do. Learn to accept and embrace a God who is full of surprises and much, much bigger than my understanding of Him, or remain frustrated by keeping the God I got.

[1] Jonah went "below in the hold of the ship, lain down and fallen sound asleep" during "a great storm on the sea" that threatened sink the boat. A frightened the crew woke Jonah and begged him: "Get up, call on your god" (Jonah 1.4, 5). Something similar happened when the disciples found Jesus sleeping when their "boat was being covered with waves" on the Sea of Galilee with his disciples (Matthew 8.23-27 and parallels Mark 4.35-41; Luke 8.22-25).

Jonah was "in the stomach of the fish tree days and three nights" (Jonah 1.17) and Jesus prophesied of Himself: "...so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (Matthew 12.40).

And, just as "the fish... vomited Jonah up onto the dry land" (Jonah 2.10), Christ "was buried, and... raised on the third day" (1st Corinthians 15.3-4).

Upper right stained glass window is from Choir of the City/Parish Church St.Dionysus, Steinhövel window in Speyer, Germany, dated approximately 1280 AD. The lower left stained glass is from the 14th century and on display at Protestant St. Stephen's Church (Temple Saint-Étienne) in Mulhouse, France.

1 comment:

Nitewrit said...


What occurs in Jonah is repeated over and over again in the Old Testament. I hear people claim the Old Testament God is this angry God and not the Loving, Forgiving God of the New testament. they need to reread the Bible. You see a loving forgiving God over and over again in the Old Testament, a God of great patience. They also must skim over some passages in the New Testament where Jesus shows some anger and impatience.