From the Rectory – February

The days when every child could tell you about the heroes of the bible are long gone, but the story of Jonah is one that is often recalled. It’s because the tale of a man who tries to run away from God is totally unforgettable. And these are the highlights.

God tells Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh and tell the citizens that God is going to destroy every last one of them because of their wickedness. Jonah doesn’t much fancy acting on God’s request, so he boards a boat going in the opposite direction. While aboard, a violent storm batters the ship, and Jonah realises that the only way that the ship can be saved is if he is thrown overboard. The reluctant crew do as Jonah asks and the storm subsides. Jonah meanwhile is swallowed by a giant fish where he spends three days coming to his senses. The fish spews him  on to dry land, Jonah goes to Nineveh to deliver the message form God, the people of Nineveh repent, and God decides that having turned from their evil ways he will not bring the destruction he had threatened. 

Which would be a great place to end the story. But in the book of Jonah we find a final chapter where the title character sitting despondently at a distance from the city waiting to see God’s wrath poured out onto the evil people.

Why is Jonah so downcast? 

‘Because you are a gracious and compassionate God’ says Jonah, ‘slow to anger and abounding in love. I knew that you would relent. I’ve wasted my time and risked my life telling them that the fire of God would be spent upon them. But it hasn’t come.’

But God asks Jonah if it’s right for him to angry? ‘Get your priorities right’ says God. ‘If you’re more worried about yourself than the thousands of people living in the city, then you need to look at the kind of God I am.’ 

Some see God as an angry deity who sits at a distance, occasionally lobbing a thunderbolt and indulging in a bit of smiting. But that doesn’t reflect his true nature. Jonah got it right. Our God is gracious and compassionate. Mostly though he is the God of love, ready to forgive the repentant and welcome them into his kingdom. And there’s no better place to be.

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