I’ve never found it particularly difficult to be gracious — with myself, that is. When I’m speeding through my neighborhood, it’s because I’m late for something important, or it’s been a difficult day, the kids are sick, and speeding is entirely reasonable. Of course, when I’m relaxing outside and a stranger whizzes by, I shake my head. What an irresponsible menace to society; there are children in this neighborhood!
We could call this “The Jonah Complex.” Buying a ticket to the ends of the earth so I can run away from God? Completely understandable. Forgiving a wicked people when they repent? Outrageous! It would seem it’s always easier to extend grace to ourselves because we understand ourselves. We know the backstory, the rationales, the extenuating circumstances. We’re the greatest advocates for our “rights” and implicitly sympathetic to our own suffering.
Until, of course, the day we’re swallowed by a fish. Or a gigantic bill, too large for us to pay. Or a diagnosis. Or a loss. Or a pandemic. In these overwhelming moments, like Jonah, many of us cry out to God. We repent as he once did:
When my life was fainting away, I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came to You, into Your holy temple. Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love. But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to You; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the Lord! (Jonah 2:7-9)
There are so many biblical elements in this prayer — confession, thanksgiving, worship, sacrifice. In His great mercy, God speaks to the fish, and Jonah is freed. Unfortunately, his repentance is short-lived. Jonah’s worshipful submission evaporates the moment God forgives the Ninevites.
Before casting judgment, think about the last time you stepped out of a season of worship and fell directly into sin. Even the Apostle Paul can relate, having once written, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” (Romans 7:15,18).
What a broken people we are — learning lessons inside a fish and forgetting them the moment our feet hit the shore. This cycle of repentance is inherent to the Christian journey. It speaks to our neediness, our insufficiency, our desperate dependence on Christ.
As we unpack the book of Jonah during these weeks, listen with an open heart. He may seem an unlikable character, a moody protagonist, a stubborn and highly-flawed human being. But one thing is certain.
You are Jonah.
And so am I.