When God's love offends us

The Old Testament is full of colourful characters, and few come in more colour than the prophet Jonah...

Huw Williams | 14:58, Tuesday 30 September 2014 | Turin, Italy 

We finished our sermon series in the book of Jonah on Sunday. I've been amazed at how such a familiar book can speak to us with such freshness and colour.

Chapter 4, our passage on Sunday, is a good case in point. The colourful prophet is angry with God, and when he says in v2, "...That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster", his words bear a striking resemblance to God's self-description, the name He speaks as His glory passes by Moses on the mountain, "The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands.." Jonah is not just angry with what God does, He is angry with who God is. God's love offends Jonah, and it can also offend us.

Because Jonah's problem is the same as our's, He has discovered that God's heart is set on others in love, while our hearts by nature are set on ourselves in love. That's why like Jonah, we don't find God's love offensive when he rescues us from the bottom of the ocean, or when He adds to our comforts by way of a nice plant to shade us from the burning sun. But His love does sometimes offend us when others benefit from it, perhaps others who we don't love, who we don't consider worthy, or who receive those gifts and blessings we covet.

And so we respond like the spoiled child who likes Daddy when he buys ice cream but is angry with him when he doesn't cough up the stuff we want. And God's response to this is amazing - I don't think any of us would have considered a sharp rebuke for Jonah inappropriate at this point, and yet God is true to His name, He is patient, kind, and incredibly gracious; He invites Jonah to look upon His heart for others and asks if Jonah to consider, "Do you do well to be angry?"

And when we accept that invitation to look on God's heart for others, what an uncomfortable light it can shine into our own, inward-looking hearts! - Jonah was more concerned about his sun-shade than the 120,000 inhabitants of Ninevah, because the plant benefited him. He grieves the loss of the short-lived plant, but would rather the city were toast. In contrast God would rather save than judge those 120,000 people, because His heart is set on them in love. When God's love offends us, we do well to accept His invitation to look on His heart, and to let Him ask us, "Do you do well to be angry?"

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