Undeserved - Mercy Despite Wickedness

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Thursday, September 5, 2013 0 comments

A little over a month ago, I wrote about a story that made national news in 2006 and involved the Amish community in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The word for that week was “shun” and I talked about how the community showed mercy, grace, love, and support to the surviving family members of a gunman who had killed five Amish girls and wounded others before turning the gun on himself. Rather than shun the family, as is common practice in the Amish community, they chose instead to reach out to those who were hurting just as they were. However, there were two sides to that coin. Their act of forgiveness was on display for the whole nation to see, yet some worried that such an attitude would cause people to deny the existence of evil. I can also remember the anger that some had over the fact that the gunman killed himself and didn’t have to face the law or man’s punishment. One guy even called into the radio station I was listening to and ranted about the gunman “getting off easy” and “not getting what was coming to him”.

Does that sound like an attitude you would have toward a deranged man that destroyed the lives and families of innocent children? Would seeing justice (according to YOU) happen in the situation give you greater peace or joy about the wickedness that was done? I’ll never forget John McCain’s words to the then-unknown terrorists who had committed the heinous acts of September 11, 2001. As I sat in my college dorm room later that afternoon listening to media coverage, Senator McCain said to those responsible, “May God have mercy on you, because we will not!” Other politicians have had similar responses to other acts of terrorism. I can remember some fellow believers saying that we need to pray for the salvation of men like Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, but that was usually not the sentiment of the majority. It seems to me that all humans have an innate desire for justice and I believe that it comes from being made in the image of a just God. The problem is that sin has corrupted our understanding of what justice really is, so we only seem to push for it when it is in our best interest. There’s a man in the Bible who most of us probably learned about when we were children who wrestled with his own version of justice against God’s. In the Book of Jonah, the prophet is called by God to travel to the wicked city of Nineveh and preach against it (1:1). I remember hearing once that Nineveh would be equivalent to our modern-day Las Vegas, but there is no real evidence to suggest such a thing. It was a wicked city because it had a lot of people, and people are wicked! If you read, Katie’s post from Monday, you learned that ALL have sinned.

What made the call to Nineveh so displeasing to Jonah was the fact that it was the most important city in the nation of Assyria, which was a major enemy of Jonah’s native country of Israel at the time. The Assyrians had shown unimaginable cruelty to the Israelites over the years, and now God was asking Jonah to go and warn them about their wickedness and call them to repentance. Before you pick on Jonah for his actions, ask yourself if you’d jump at the chance to warn your hated enemy of God’s wrath ahead of time and make yourself look like a fool and maybe even a traitor in the eyes of your fellow countrymen. The Israelites knew they were God’s chosen people, so they always waited and assumed God would totally destroy their enemies and get revenge. Who would want to stop that? If I were Jonah, I’d probably try to escape as far away as possible like he did.

If you don’t know the story of Jonah, please go read it. After disobeying God and being so distraught about it that he just wants to die, he asks sailors on his boat to throw him overboard to calm the storm that God had caused. Reluctantly, they do so when there is no other hope in their situation. Jonah expects to die, but God provides a giant fish to swallow him whole and eventually vomit him back onto dry land (Jonah 1 and 2). While inside the fish, and likely covered in disgusting intestinal juices you and I can’t begin to imagine, he has a thankful and humble attitude as he rejoices that his life is spared and he has a second chance (see Jonah’s prayer in chapter 2). Once he’s back on land, he obeys God and goes to Nineveh, where his warning of God’s destruction results in nationwide repentance (Jonah 3). How would you feel if you were Jonah? What if God called you to warn your enemy or our nation’s enemy about his wrath with the hope of motivating them to repentance and it worked? Would you feel like the enemy was “getting away” with their wickedness?

The last chapter is really the key to the story of Jonah. After being thankful for God’s mercy toward himself, Jonah is “greatly displeased and angry” because of God’s decision to have mercy on Nineveh and not punish them for their previous wickedness (4:1). He had gone out and found a place east of the city, presumably to sit, watch, and rejoice at the destruction of his enemies. When it doesn’t happen, he returns to his state of self-pity and, once again, wants to die. God provides a vine to give him shade in the midst of intense heat from the sun, but then causes the vine to die the next day. For the third time, Jonah asks to die. The whole point for us is summed up in God’s question for Jonah at the end of his book. “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?” (Jonah 4:10-11)

The question is one that not just Jonah, but also every one of us needs to answer. Jonah was concerned about the life of the plant, but not the lives and eternities of 120,000 people created in the image of God. He was too worried about his view of what they DESERVED, even after he had personally received mercy that was UNDESERVED. I pray that we are not so misguided.