“Why should I (the lord) not be concerned for Nineveh, the great city, in which are more than 120,000 people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, to say nothing of all the animals? (the concluding verse of Jonah -4:11NJB)
“I knew this would happen”, complained Jonah the prophet after Israel’s enemy had been spared; “I KNEW You were a tender, compassionate God, slow to anger rich in faithful love, who relents about inflicting disaster. I’m so miserable I just want to die” (cf. Jon4:2,3). Unlike certain revered Christian theologians, Jonah truly understood the nature of his God very well: compassionate to all, tender hearted, slow to anger, and from Jonah’s perspective disturbingly likely to show mercy towards the ignorant and irreligious Ninevites whom God recognised “could not tell their right hand from their left” – providing of course they repented. Much to the prophet’s chagrin, they did just that. Jonah had feared as much from the start, which is ultimately why he found himself in the belly of a whale. Fanciful though the account may sound to some it received affirmation of the highest order in the gospels by Jesus, no less (Mt12:39-41).
The God Jonah so accurately describes is the One I have come to know in recent years, especially since the encounter with the Spirit that led to the book that these posts seek to complement by drawing out sequentially from the Old Testament indicators of God’s thoroughly intelligible and loving nature, equitable justice and munificent providence. It is all so different from the God I first encountered 45 years ago as a young and zealously Reformed Evangelical – the God of Augustine, Luther and Calvin. Awesome and dreadful though such a God was, He could not from any human perspective (however enlightened) be regarded as tender and loving by nature or fair to all; rather (I then understood) He was merciful and exceedingly gracious towards the proportional few; the majority being understood to be destined at birth for eternal misery, in Augustine’s words “to demonstrate what should have been due to all”. I have been shown that such a cosmic horror story has nothing whatsoever to do with the Gospel (cf. Lk2:10); nor indeed has the equally unbiblical concept that all will be well for everyone, as I make clear in my book and earlier posts with regard to those (from my life experience the minority) who go in the way of Cain and become devoid of that marker which defines those who retain the image of God, being agape (Mt25:45; 1Jn4:7). The key point from this particular post is that the true God of Israel has precisely the nature that Jonah depicts, but whilst he, for patriotic reasons, was inclined to be miserable about it, I for one am thankful and delighted. So should all people of good will be, especially those privileged and challenged to be called into the service of His Son, “to whom God has made known the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Col1:27; cf. Jn6:56).