Saturday, September 17, 2011

Loving the truth about God

Up until quite recently I’d never taken much notice of the book of Jonah. Maybe I was looking at it as a Sunday school book. Jonah getting swallowed by the whale does make quite a good story to tell in Sunday school but I discovered as we discussed the book at church camp that there is things for adults to learn from it too. What I want to focus on here is towards the end of the book. At this point in the story, Jonah’s mission to Ninevah has been what most people would call a massive success. All of Ninevah has repented in pretty dramatic fashion and God has spared them his punishment. Then we read this:

But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the LORD and said, "O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? 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. Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live." (Jonah 4:1-3)

The thing I had pointed out to me from this section that I found thought provoking was that Jonah does and says stupid things despite appearing to have a decent theological understanding. He has a pretty accurate grasp on God’s what God is like- he talks about God’s grace, mercy, love and slowness to get angry. Elsewhere in the book he talks about salvation belonging to God (Jonah 2:9) and acknowledges God as creator (Jonah 1:9). These are really important things for Jonah to know but knowing them was not enough. Part of what seems to have caused Jonah’s problems is that Jonah did not love the things he knows about God. Instead the truth about God frustrates him badly. He wanted God to be different. He would have rather God be quick to get angry (at other people of course) and wishes God wasn’t quite so merciful. Because he wasn’t happy about these things, he rebelled.

While we probably don’t usually throw such epic temper tantrums about the things we don’t like about God, the same problem can exist. It doesn’t matter how loudly we confess the truth, if we wish it wasn’t true it will come out in our behavior. At some point, our flesh will find something about God’s character to object to. If you don’t like that God is sovereign and you are not, you’ll probably get bitter when things don’t turn out the way you want. If like Jonah, you are unimpressed that God chooses loves people you don’t like, chances are you aren’t going to reach out to them very well. If you get frustrated that God chooses to bless people you don’t think are deserving, you probably have a bad attitude about God’s grace.

As we learn things about God or remember things we know, we need to watch how our hearts react. If the reaction isn’t good, that needs dealing with. The most important thing we can do is to ask for God’s help. I’m sure help with changing our hearts is the kind of prayer God would love to answer! We can also choose not to focus on how something about how God works gets in the way of us getting what we want. We can choose to retrain our minds by thanking God for various aspects of his character. Whatever it takes to make sure we don’t just believe the truth about God but love it too.