God’s Extravagant & Reckless Grace
Daily Reading: Jonah 3-4, Psalm 1-2
We have been talking a lot lately (at http://www.christianresearchnetwork.info) about God’s salvation. I think, perhaps, we might have been inadvertently, or not, talking about the extent of God’s grace. Grace is a subject we do not speak of highly enough or often enough or with enough humility. I wonder if we don’t sometimes shrink God’s grace because we are so disturbed by those to whom God demonstrates his grace?
I think Jonah’s problem is one of not fully understanding God’s grace. Then I read this:
The central promise to their father of their faith, Abraham, was that God would bless his people so that they would bless the world. It is always about wealth, health, possessions, and influence being used to bless others. But the disciples’ interest isn’t in the ends of the earth. They’re interested in regaining the kingdom of comfort they once had. They long for the blessing of God for themselves. Deep in their bones is the belief that they are God’s favorites. For them, blessing is about favoritism. We are chosen and elect and favorite; therefore we deserve certain securities and benefits…They’re still trapped in the entitlement of the old covenant religion. (Bell & Golden Jesus Wants to Save Christians, 110)
Or maybe he didn’t fully understand who God had called him to be. Or maybe he didn’t fully understand who God was.
This is the question that is asked at the very end of Jonah 4, by God, of Jonah who is at least a fair representative of Israel as a whole, is: “You have been concerned about this gourd, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Ninevah, in which there are more than 120,000 people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and many animals also?”
God is asking Jonah, “How much grace do you think it is fair for me to dispense to the world that I have created?”
I have always been amazed that the book of Jonah has no ending. In a sense, the book of Jonah is appropriately named: It is about Jonah. It is far more about Jonah than it is about Ninevah. Then, it is far more about God than it is about Jonah. Still, God wants Jonah to answer the question about how far his grace should extend; he is asking us too.
We have our ‘own’ book of Jonah in the New Testament. It’s called Luke chapter 15. As far as words go, Jonah is not much longer than Luke. As far as intent is concerned, both have the same general idea. As far as literature is concerned, Jonah has no ending; neither does Luke 15. “My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” We are left with the impression that the older brother is still on the outside of the house, refusing to go into the party. Just like Jonah.
Jonah and the older brother were left sitting on the outside, refusing to join the party. They were people who believed they were favorites because they did everything right and they could not understand this God, this Father, whose grace was big enough to welcome home those who repented. He is rather amazing, isn’t he? I wonder they were trapped in the entitlement mindset that Bell and Golden speak of? That is: “We have done all things right. We have not strayed. How dare God welcome with rejoicing those rebels. Don’t we deserve something better?”
“Or are you jealous that I am so generous? Don’t I have a right to do with my grace what I want?”
Father in heaven, have mercy on us; sinners all. Lord, forgive me because I have been less than generous, I have lived like I’m entitled. I have more often lived as if I don’t have to rejoice—as if you have sanctioned my anger just because I call it ‘righteous indignation.’ I have more often lived with anger at those you choose to save—especially those that I think you should not save. Remind me Lord that you care more about the world than I do. Remind me that it is OK for you to be gracious to whom you will and that it is OK for me to rejoice when you are.