Tuesday, October 11, 2011

It is all about me!

The Book of Jonah exposes some of our possible motivations, deep underlying prejudices, and self-righteousness. Jonah is called by God to go to the hostile and depraved city of Nineveh to preach a message of judgement and repentance. He runs in the opposite direction. Several divine interventions (including the famous fish) eventually force him to follow God's call. The people of Nineveh do repent. One might expect him to rejoice.
1But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. 2And 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. 3 Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live."  
This discomfort, or even disgust, with the grace and mercy of God reminds me of two things. First, Javert the self-righteous policeman in Les Miserables who killed himself, rather than live with an act of mercy from his live-long adversary. Second, Karl Barth's point that when we comtemplate the judgement of God, particularly as it is represented in classical art, we tend to focus (or even delight) on how it applies to others rather than ourselves.

So, it is not all about me! It is not for me to judge or to decide who should receive God's mercy. I should be unsettled by just how gracious and merciful God is.
Woodcut by Weigel (1695) of Jonah outside Nineveh

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