Most people have heard the Biblical story of Jonah or at least they know he was swallowed by a whale a long, long time ago, spent some time inside and then somehow got out. Generally people north of the Bible belt don’t know why that large mammal swallowed Jonah or where he headed after the whale regurgitated him onto the beach. God sent that whale after Jonah because Jonah did not want to preach in the land of Nineveh about their impending doom. Jonah wanted the wicked Ninevites to pay for their sins. He wanted God to punish them but he knew that if he preached to them and they listened, not only listened but repented, that God would spare them. So Jonah ran away from God.
Jonah, after three days inside the whale, decided to obey God and to his dismay, after preaching to Nineveh, the Ninevites repented and God spared them. Jonah wasn’t too happy. He wanted them destroyed.
I would like to roll my eyes at Jonah. I would like to stand in judgment of him. I can’t. I can preach to a thief who has never stolen from me. I can minister to a man who has not stained his hands with my relatives’ blood. How many of us though want to save the man or woman who slept with our spouse? How many of us would pray for the villain who molested our children?
I have encountered terrifically selfish and arrogant people that I not so secretly yearned to see get their comeuppance. “I wish they would just get busted!” I exclaimed. “I wish they would get caught doing what they aren’t supposed to be doing?”
Earthly punishments expire but what awaits the lost is infinite. Hell is agony and if we saw our enemies screaming in it for a mere ten seconds we might feel differently about delighting in their demise. Do you recall the scene in Ghost when Patrick Swayze’s killer died? For a moment Swayze’s character felt triumphant his death was avenged but upon hearing the groaning and wailing of the specters who emerged from nowhere and carried off the screaming murderer, Swayze’s countenance turned to dismay.
Jonah perhaps didn’t give hell enough consideration but I can’t fault him. I’d rather not enter a land full of rapists and murderers (or even mild offenders in the land of Facebook), preach God’s judgement much to their resentment of me, and see them saved in the end. But this is what God calls us to do isn’t it? God asks us to wade through our own self-righteousness and hypocrisy and preach to those not only different than us but to those who seek to hurt us. We are to minister to ones who put our children in the hospital, we are to shout God’s word to those seducing our loved ones, we are to embrace those who wag their heads and call us names.
I don’t want to do it any more than you but I also understand that God rewards everyone according to their good works and a good work is hugging the person you just can’t stand.
“I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.” Jeremiah 17:10