Eager to Forgive (Jonah)

multi-ethnic_people“Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.” Acts 10:34-35, NIV

As human beings, we can come to understand our relationship to God in terms of familiar bonds. We can see that we are God’s children by virtue of the biblical account of the Creation Story.1 Although God did not bear us in the womb and give birth to us in the usual manner, the Bible still sees this as a form of familial descent.2 We are all grandchildren of the same grandparent, albeit many generations removed.

That relationship is also re-affirmed through the kinship we experience through a salvific relationship with Jesus. Peter tells us in Acts 2:38 that we receive the Holy Spirit when we become reconciled to this normal genealogical relationship. What does that mean? It simply means that the Holy Spirit is the bond which attaches us to God as His children.3 Just as we can see indicators of relationship between individuals through eye color, hair color, body types, and various other attributes, so we can see the relationship to God through the activities of the Holy Spirit expressed in the life of every child of God.

I am often amazed at the diversity within the family of God. But when I understand the familial relationship is through the Holy Spirit, I can also understand that color, gender, ethnicity, and culture are all irrelevant to that relationship. Interestingly, this very diversity that exists within the Christian faith is strong evidence that genetics, which definitely provide adaptability for survival, have little to do with God’s genealogy. Else, we would see favoritism of genotype demonstrated by a prevalence of that type within the faith community. While this may be the case within local fellowships, once we expand our view to a global one, we cannot escape the abundant diversity among the children of God.

This confronts us with an obvious question. Please pardon the pun, but since we are all, in a sense, relatives of God, whether reconciled to Him or not, just how relativistic is God in his relationship to us? Does God demand uniformity of belief and practice from His children? Is He capable of expressing Himself differently to different people and still remain God of all? And what model does this provide for us?

Perhaps our biggest barrier to understanding the answer to these questions is our own perception of God, both culturally and ethnically. According to one ongoing, online poll,4 sixty percent of those polled see Jesus as Middle Eastern. However, twenty percent see Him as White, Asian, Hispanic or African. If we are only able to see Jesus through the prism of our own culture, could this possibly affect our perception of God and how He relates to us and others? For instance, if we see God/Jesus as African, will we tend to see only African values as legitimate expressions of a genuine relationship with Him? Is God simply an expression of our culture, or does He exist outside of it?

Most know the effect this type of thinking had on the converts that resulted from the missionary proselytization during the European colonial period. Since the missionaries were from Western cultures, they imposed many of those cultural norms on their non-Western converts. To this day, many males around the world who aspire to the gospel ministry affect the wearing of white shirts and ties as a sign of their Christianity, even when these items are not native to their cultures. One cannot help but wonder if the gospel message had been brought to the United States by Africans, would Americans be wearing African dress as outward evidence of Christian commitment?

When we bring these cultural perspectives to the book of Jonah, perhaps we can then understand Jonah’s reluctance to take a message of repentance to the city of Nineveh. For Jonah, God dwelt in Jerusalem,5 and He was a Jewish God. Nineveh, however, was not Jewish but Assyrian. Although they recognized many deities, the name of the city means “Seat of Ishtar,” so it seems that they were primarily worshippers of that goddess.6 So why would a Jewish prophet find an audience in such a city? When we also consider that this mission assigned to Jonah was during the height of the Neo-Assyrian Empire7 when the Assyrian kings were greatly expanding the city and also their influence throughout the Middle East at the expense of Israel, Judah and other surrounding kingdoms, the mission seems all the more strange. Maybe these factors, among others, were what sent Jonah running in the opposite direction.

When we also see that this is the general region that God had originally called Abraham to leave behind and follow Him,8 we come to understand something else about God. He does not appear to burn any bridges behind Him. He continues to care about and reach out to those who may not care about Him. Worship Ishtar and be at enmity with God’s chosen? God will still try to reach out to you.9 This appears to be something Jonah had difficulty understanding.

We also have difficulties seeing the character of God in this respect, today. Sadly, we find it easier to understand a mother’s unconditional love for her son or daughter who has been convicted of a felony and is sentenced to prison than to understand God’s love for the lost. When a mother defends such a child, we say “Of course, she is his mother.” But God is our advocate as well. His love does not fail when we do.

When we fail to identify with that love and love the unlovely, we can begin to see the walls of the church as a barrier against those “others.” The very gospel intended to reach them with a message of hope and salvation becomes a wall of exclusion. Like Jonah, we want nothing to do with their contaminating influence. Perhaps we reason that they won’t listen anyway.

Fortunately, for many of us who have been those “others,” God does not see things that way. He knows that there are still those whose hearts would turn toward Him if they only knew of His love. Ergo, we, as God’s children, are tasked with taking that message of love to those citadels where they worship gods who are not gods and in ignorance, tear down and destroy the image of God in themselves. God was willing to die, Himself, rather than see mankind destroy itself.10 We find it difficult to comprehend that kind of love, but it draws us. It pulls on our heart strings, even if we turn from it. Jesus expressed that love is such a way that, even today, we can feel the tears in His voice.11

While God’s love is so intense and everlasting, we, like Jonah, tend not to understand its nature. Although we may ask, “Why does God allow so much evil in the world?” we fail to understand that His chosen agency for remedying that evil is us. We are to carry His message of love, hope, and reconciliation into that evil mess and proclaim it from one end of the city to the other.12 Today, as in Jesus’ day, this is a great commission and many are eager to hear that message. The problem is not whether or not hearts are willing to repent but whether or not there are those who are willing to enter Nineveh and call them.13

When Jonah became willing to carry the message of salvation to a people who seemed as far as they could possibly get from being willing to listen to that message, he found his own salvation as well. Perhaps, this is the essential message of the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew, chapter twenty-five.14 Perhaps salvation can only be found in our willingness to take that same salvation to others, even at great personal cost to our own well-being. After all, this is what Christ did for us.

Is any human degradation so offensive to us that we cannot minister to it? How degrading was it for Christ to leave the purity of heaven and wallow in the filth and poverty of Nazareth in order to proclaim God’s undying love for us? Are we in fear for our lives and so fail to step outside our homes to share God’s love with the world? In spite of the knowledge of His own coming death, Jesus willingly came anyway.

Some might say that Jesus was God and could resurrect Himself. Do we then doubt our own resurrection as God has promised?15 If like Jonah, we find more security in the belly of a fish than in the cities of this world, we are missing a blessing. However, the God that loves us so much that He wants to proclaim that love even in the midst of wickedness beyond imagining also proclaims that love to us, as well, even in the belly of that “fish” where we have hidden away from His call.

  1. Genesis 1:26-28
  2. Luke 3:23-37
  3. Romans 8:16-17
  4. “Poll: What Ethnicity Was Jesus?” www.mmajunkie.com
  5. Psalm 46:4-5
  6. “Nineveh,” http://en.wikipedia.org/
  7. “Neo-Assyrian Empire,” Ibid.
  8. Genesis 11:31-12:6
  9. Romans 5:8-10
  10. John 1:1 & 3:16-17
  11. Matthew 23:37
  12. Ibid., 28:18-20
  13. Matthew 9:37-38
  14. Ibid., 25:31-46
  15. Thessalonians 4:16-18


Eager to Forgive (Jonah) — 20 Comments

  1. E.G. White, in the Desire of Ages, Chapter 2, says that the Jews, instead of becoming the light of the word, built up a wall of separation between Israel and other nations-- under the false pretense of escaping “temptation to idolatry.” In reality, they’re actually jealous lest the Lord should show mercy to the Gentiles. Rahab is a classic example of God’s unconditional love to all humans irrespective of our background, race or color. Here is a gentile harlot in a gentile city about to get destroyed. She cried to a God whom she doesn’t know for salivation. Not only did our God rescue her but extended her the honor and privilege of being included in the genealogical line of David from whom Jesus himself descended.

    I’m personally thankful to the Holy Spirit, the Vicar of Jesus Christ on Earth, for enabling me to see people beyond race, color and even social class. I’m still biased against teenagers with sagging pants though. They’re the last group of people I’d like to strike a conversation with lol.

    • Along with Rahab we might include Ruth the Moabitess and Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah as examples of God's unrelenting compassion toward those who have lived beyond the pale of conforming fellowship. What a joyous message of hope for the lost.

  2. Thanks God for His wonderful provisions to protect,to guide, to mentor,to forgive even though many times I disobeyed Him.

    • Jed,
      Thank you sincerely for focusing on the real message of the Book of Jonah: Our God, Yahweh, has made "wonderful provisions" for His children, especially Jesus Christ coming to suffer separation and death so HE can provide grace and forgiveness for us. The Book of Jonah is about our Father's eagerness to forgive and save.

      What a wonderful story of God's eagerness to forgive and save:
      * Jonah, the Israelite (not Jew) of the 10 tribes, running away so he won't look bad when God forgives others; then after offering a profound prayer of acknowledgment of God's mercy, receiving forgiveness in the belly of a fish.
      * The Captain and sailors on the ship, seeing and responding to the miracles of God as He manifested Himself through a disobedient runaway prophet and miracles in nature,
      * The King and his people of Nineveh, capital of "active" Assyria, receiving grace and forgiveness when they repented.

      The story is not about Jonah and culture. It is about a wonderful God who is eager to forgive and save all His children. What happened to today's Christians is that we see ourselves as the chosen ones, today's Israel, called to reach out to other cultures. No. We are the other cultures who God reached out to, and grafted us on to the tree (read Paul); now presenting us as live "ensamples" of God's saving grace to all peoples (as is so evident in the Book of Jonah).

      I would offer for consideration that Jonah was not sent specifically to preach to Assyrians, seemingly only time in Scripture where God sends an Israelite prophet to preach to pagans. Assyria first invaded and took Israelite (10 tribes) captives in 742 BC; then returned and generally took all Israel captives in 723/722 BC. God gave Prophet Jonah "wonderful provisions" of protection, sending him south to Jerusalem; from where he "ran away" 30+ miles west to the sea port of Joppa to take a boat to Spain.

      Just as God did not forget the Jews (2 tribes), after sending them as captives to Babylon (800 SSE of Assyria), but made "wonderful provisions" of grace and mercy for them; so it is quite likely that Jonah was sent to God's people, Israel, in Nineveh sometime between 742 and 722 BC, or even after. Three years after being in Babylon, Jews were given top positions in capital Babylon; and not long after in capital Susa, 250 miles east of Babylon. It is to be expected that there was a very large settlement of Israelite captives in Nineveh, and one of them could have become King of the city. Note also that Nebuchadnezzar borrowed his philosophy of integrating other cultures into the Babylonian culture from, who else, the King of Assyria.
      What a mighty loving God we serve, Who would not forget His people in captivity, whether in Nineveh, Babylon, Susa, Istanbul, Tokoyo or New York... He is Eager to Forgive. Bless His Name!

  3. Forgiven but not forgiving. Is this not the position some of us Adventists have on newly baptized members with tainted pasts? We are glad for the increasing numbers to the church book, but we skeptical about their conversion and disingenuous with our relationship to them. Yep, Jonah is still alive today

  4. I believe the reason that it appears to us that God is relativistic in His definition of His children is that we think too much in terms of physical relationships and forget that God is a Spirit. He can only aknowlegde those to be His who are His in spirit, not in flesh only.

    John 4:24 (KJV)
    God [is] a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship [him] in spirit and in truth.

  5. Hi Stephen,

    When we bring these cultural perspectives to the book of Jonah, perhaps we can then understand Jonah’s reluctance to take a message of repentance to the city of Nineveh.

    I think that Jonah's reluctance went far beyond a worry of being accepted. For one thing, if the prophecy had come true, he would only have had to worry about acceptance for a little over a month.

    The big issue for Jonah -- and for every Israelite in that time -- was the relationship of Assyria to Israel. The Assyrians were already beginning to wreak havoc on the ten northern tribes, and would ultimately disperse them.

    It's a hard task to be given the job of prophesying to your ACTIVE enemies, when you are already pretty certain that your God is a forgiving God. Add to this the specter of being considered a false prophet, and Jonah has some real disincentives to follow God's instructions (from a human perspective).

    Based on God's final message to Jonah as recorded in Jonah 4, Jonah was not concerned with the salvation of people -- at least not the ones that were enemies of his people.

    How many of us could easily overcome the pain and angst associated with trying to save the very people that have killed and are killing our families?

    Little does Jonah realize the similarity in his experience and that which God has in the saving of humanity (in terms of the unworthiness of those being saved).

    We are all grandchildren of the same grandparent, albeit many generations removed.

    It might be better to say that God has no grandchildren. Every person is directly a son or daughter of God...

    Andrew S. Baker (ASB)

    • Good evening Andrew,

      I agree with you when you say, "It’s a hard task to be given the job of prophesying to your Active enemies, when you are already pretty certain that your God is a forgiving God." The only thing I would add is that it is doubly difficult when you see the Assyrians prospering and your own people being attacked by them with what Jonah would probably see as an apparent indifference on God's part.

      I can easily imagine Jonah thinking like Habakkuk:

      O LORD, how long shall I cry, And You will not hear? Even cry out to You, "Violence!" And You will not save. Why do You show me iniquity, And cause me to see trouble? For plundering and violence are before me; There is strife, and contention arises. Therefore the law is powerless, And justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; Therefore perverse judgment proceeds. (Hab. 1:2-4 NKJV)

      And again later in the same chapter:

      Are You not from everlasting, O LORD my God, my Holy One? We shall not die. O LORD, You have appointed them for judgment; O Rock, You have marked them for correction. You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, And cannot look on wickedness. Why do You look on those who deal treacherously, And hold Your tongue when the wicked devours A person more righteous than he? Why do You make men like fish of the sea, Like creeping things that have no ruler over them? They take up all of them with a hook, They catch them in their net, And gather them in their dragnet. Therefore they rejoice and are glad. Therefore they sacrifice to their net, And burn incense to their dragnet; Because by them their share is sumptuous And their food plentiful. Shall they therefore empty their net, And continue to slay nations without pity? (Hab. 1:12-17 NKJV)

      We often shake our heads at other people when we see their weaknesses without realizing our own. In fact, I would bet that most of us would do the same thing Jonah did given the same circumstances.

  6. It is a strange thing that most lessons are used for self critic. Is that just modern to do? Always to reprove us? Jonah was bad and we are.... Bad. Are we missing a point if always doing this self pitying? Or it is self praising in that? We see us to be called for prophetic mission like Jonah. Are we all called? Can we be still and waiting for Lord's coming without that extroversion?

    • Hello, Goran

      I believe it is important that we look at all of the messages in the Bible in terms of how they apply to us, and what lessons we need to learn to strengthen our Christian experience.

      Here are all of the ways we could look at these lessons:

      -- Read them and recognize where we need to rely upon God
      -- Read them and see how much better we are than the main character
      -- Read them and see how the lesson applies to others
      -- Come to no conclusions about how they apply to us or anyone else

      With those options, it seems to me that shining a spotlight on our own condition and asking for God's help to overcome what was uncovered is our safest course of action.

      Andrew S. Baker (ASB)

  7. @ Goran regarding your comment/question about extroversion; I believe reaching others is important but not to the point that one looses his or her unique personality. Extraversion or introversion are personality tendancies, nothing more. David was very extroverted as evidenced by his numerrous, verbally expressive Psalms. Jesus, on the other hand, seemed to behave in a more introverted way, generally keeping the social scene at bay, or low-key at most. David tended to be more the life of the party, but Jesus was and is the most sucessful evangelist and He did it as an introvert. No, we dont need to have a tendancy towards extroversion, merely the willingness to reach out when God places us in evangelistic situtations. Both introverts and extroverts are necessary for successful evangelism.

    @Brother Terry I cannot agree with you more that there would be many more who would turn their ways if they only knew God's love. God's love is what is so convincing, so amazing and also hard to describe! How can I love more like Him? How can I convey that love? This should be one of our deepest desires.

    • Brother Ramos, perhaps it is like this: if one fills a cup with mud, they can then run water into it, and as the water continues to run into the cup and over the rim, the liquid in the cup becomes more and more clear, until eventually only clean water is in the cup. God continually pours His love into our hearts until they also run clear with His love. And as we receive that gift it also overflows the rim to those around us. Amazing love!

  8. May God be glorified, whom through all resistance to His work, He still love us. Let Him give us courage to proclaim His love to the world we live in, amen.

  9. Matthew 25: 35 -40 "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
    Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

    The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'
    I have to see that I am equal with my fellow man, not better ,not worse. God's love and mercy puts all of us on the same level.

  10. I think the greatest question is the relationship btwn Israel and Assyria~ why is this book included in the Hebrew canon.

    • That's a great question, Ncube. In fact, I think it would be a great discussion starter for Sabbath School. Thanks for bringing it up.

  11. Is it true that only Christians (or those in God's fold as we say) are children of God?

    In other words, is it true that we are not children of God until we are converted?

    In other words, is it false to say: "Everyone is a child of God"?

    More and more I am seeing and hearing this expressed.

  12. I really appreciate this article.

    I hope God could find me useful in some way if he needs me.

    I pray that God's love will shine everywhere and bring hope to all His children.

  13. Andrew, That’s right, only those that have professed Christ and put their faith in Him are children of God. There are lots of false sayings going around that try to make everyone out to be a child of God. The enemy would love to convince people of that, when in reality they are lost. The Lord can and wants to use you, but in the mean time, while you are waiting to get direction, be studying the word. A workman that need not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. I am not an Adventist, but come and read post, now and again. I really liked what Stephen wrote! Excellent, excellent.


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