When People Don't Get What They Deserve
“Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow’ though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool” —Isaiah 1:18, NIV.
The longing heart of a loving God.
Many people picture the God of the Old Testament as vindictive and angry, separating Him from what they perceive the God of the New Testament to be. But there are endless examples in the Old Testament that show us God’s compassion and care. There are not two Gods, or One with a split personality, but only One. He punishes sin, but He loves sinners and His mission is to restore the sinner’s relationship with Him.
I was reminded of this truth again last night as our study group looked at the story of Jonah. When that wayward prophet finally got to Nineveh and passed on the message God had for the Assyrian population, they all repented and God forgave them. Jonah was angry. The Assyrians had treated his people badly over many years and Jonah really wanted them to be punished. Disaster and death were too good for the enemies of Israel. So when God forgave them, Jonah complains: “O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity” —Jonah 4:2, NIV.
The people of Nineveh had been given forty days to repent and it appears that they responded immediately to Jonah’s message. The prophet still hoped that they would repent of their repentance and suffer the consequences so he settled himself on the hillside opposite the city to see if, at the end of the grace period, God will still have reason to destroy the city and those who live in it.
God had to show Jonah His heart once more. Samuel Schultz in The Old Testament Speaks writes: “…Sheltered in a booth, Jonah was encouraged when God caused a plant to grow speedily to provide a canopy of shade from the heat of the day. But Jonah had another lesson to learn. Instead of witnessing the destruction of the city he was inconvenienced when a worm destroyed the plant which had afforded him such delight. God pointed out that the prophet was much more concerned about his own comfort that about the welfare of 120,000 innocent children who had not yet reached the age of discernment. To God the conversion of Assyrians was much more important than the preservation of a plant for the enjoyment of one individual” (pg. 381).
It’s one of those “ouch” moments when we are reminded that our hearts for people oftentimes don’t model God’s heart for people. Secretly, or not so secretly, we like people to get what they deserve. And then God gives them what none of us deserve—forgiveness.
“Come and reason with me,” says the Lord. “I will show you mercy because that’s Who I am. Ask and you will receive, even though you don’t deserve it.”