Running from Grace (Jonah 4:1-4)

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Why did Jonah run from God? We do not learn the answer to this question until near the end of the story. And when we do, it’s not the answer we expect.
If I were Jonah, I would offer several reasons for running from God. For one thing, the message God commissioned Jonah to deliver was a message of judgment. Who wants to be the bearer of bad news? For another thing, the recipients of that bad news were not exactly “good people.” According to the Ninevites own testimony, they were guilty of “evil ways” and of “violence” (Jonah 3:8). And a few decades after Jonah preached to them, Assyria (of which Nineveh was a great city) overran the northern kingdom of Israel (of which Jonah was a citizen) and sent its people into permanent exile (2 Kings 17). So, if I were Jonah, I’d run for the simple reason that I was afraid of Nineveh. But that’s not the reason Jonah offered God for running.
Instead, if I read Jonah 4:1-4 correctly, Jonah is running from grace.
But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the LORD, “O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
But the LORD replied, “Have you any right to be angry?”
Think with me, for a moment, about the absurdity of Jonah’s emotional response. First, he is irrationally angry. According to his own testimony, he knows that his message of judgment is really an offer of divine pardon. And yet, he is ticked off that the Ninevites take God up on the offer. That makes about as much sense as Billy Graham holding an evangelistic crusade in Las Vegas and becoming angry that people are leaving the poker tables to follow Jesus. But anger is often irrational.
Second, Jonah is hypocritically angry. He is happy that God gave him a second chance, but he is unwilling to extend second chances to Nineveh. But anger is often hypocritical. We condemn in others the sins we commit ourselves.
And third, Jonah is unrighteously angry. He freely confesses that God is “a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” But he doesn’t conform his character to God’s character or mirror God’s love to the Ninevites. Instead, he goes suicidal on God. He would rather die than love. That’s un-God-like. That’s unrighteous. And unfortunately, that’s Jonah.
At some point, each of us must face our inner Jonah, the person who wants grace but doesn’t want to give grace. And when we face him, we must kill him off, for the only way to live is to love as God loves.

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