WHEN YOU WANT TO SAY “NO” TO GOD
Jonah 3: 1-6; 10
Can you think about the consequences of not listening to anyone but yourself? Our world is in trouble because of such attitudes. There are some major retailers and corporations that went into bankruptcy because their leaders said “no” to technology and they were left in the dust. In the armed forces of America, not following orders of a superior officer can be grounds for court martial. History records people who thought they were right no matter what: Napoleon and Hitler and Nero and Herod; Osama Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, and now Kim Jong Il. We see kids who think they have a better idea than getting a good job, and often they fall into trouble or drift into lethargy. Attitude is a demon many people fight.
Let’s think about how important attitude is in life. Dale Galloway, in his book called THE AWESOME POWER OF YOUR ATTITUDE says “Someone once said:
‘In war, there are no unwounded soldiers.’ It’s also true that in every day life, no one escapes being hurt or wounded. A practicing psychologist friend of mine estimates that for every physical illness we suffer, there are forty-five to sixty emotional hurts that wound us or cause us pain. Can anything be worse than to be hurt emotionally? Yes…. Believe it, there is something worse because it is so self- destructive. I am talking about the destructive attitude of bitterness. If you cut your hand, you know that if you keep infection out of the wound, it will heal. We are the same way emotionally. God has put great healing powers within that flow from His love. However, we will not heal emotionally if we allow the infection of bitterness to get into our emotional wounds. The thing that sometimes people never learn is that no matter what another person does to you, you still have a choice. Bitter, or better: the attitude choice is yours!” [1992, P. 121]
Think of the times someone has made a request of you, and you “get your back up” and say “no.” Sometimes refusing to do something can keep you from harm, or from facing things you don’t want to face. But often that one word “no” can be the end of home privileges, the end of your school day, the end of your job, or the end of a relationship. “No” is a word that is wisely used sparingly. But to say “No” to God, or to try to run from God, wel,l we have a first class example of what happens then. Here’s Jonah!
Jonah, one of God’s preachers, was commissioned by God to share a message of hope and salvation with Ninevites. Now you have to understand some things about Nineveh. Nineveh is in modern day Iraq about 100 miles north of modern day Baghdad. Jews and Christians alike have had a long history with that part of the world, which is in the heart of early civilization: The Tigris and Euphrates rivers are there. In the days when Jonah was written, leaders from that region did not think twice about slicing open their enemies: men, women, or children. They killed and tortured those whom they captured; they were known in their day as a ruthless regime. Interesting in terms of what America and the world face today, isn’t it? An incensed Jonah would rather have such people burn in Sheol. He could not believe that God called on him to go instruct Ninevites to repent. He decides God must be a madman or a fool. God would need to recruit someone other than him for the job. Our story tells us that Jonah did a foolish thing: (all who have ears, let them hear) Jonah refused to offer salvation to such barbaric people. He ran from God. He joined other Jews in wanting to hate Ninevites, not change them. In his flight, he nearly got many other men killed on a ship; he was thrown overboard and was swallowed by a huge fish where he spent three days! Gross. But on the third day the fish (or whale) spewed him out on the beach, as the story goes, and only then did God have Jonah’s attention! What does God have to do to get your attention? What does God need to do to have you say “Here I am Lord, send me?” In this case after his harrowing journey into the belly of a “whale” and back, Jonah finally did what God asked of him. He went to Nineveh and the Ninevites, beginning with the King, indeed repented, to Jonah’s great dismay. But Jonah wasn’t finished making a fool of himself yet! To add insult to injury, he chose to resent the love and grace of God for the rest of the story. Jonah, a prophet of God, chose to be bitter. Saying “no” is a choice! Bitterness is also a choice! Doesn’t it seem likely that God was pleased with the formerly wicked Ninevites and disappointed in his own prophet? Isn’t the father of the prodigal son in Luke 15 likewise pleased with his wild son who chooses to return home, and disappointed with his normally faithful older son who chooses not to enter the house for the party?
There is no perfect parallel with that story and our situation today. But there are intriguing similarities. Could it be that Jonah did not believe that the King of Nineveh, (now Iraq) truly repented? Could it be that his history with their leader, like the situations we’ve face in that region over the last thirty years, told Jonah that the man and his forces just couldn’t be trusted? On the other hand, if people really are born again, and the leader of Nineveh repented, is it possible that God knows human hearts better than we do? After World War II, many Japanese were demonized by Americans, and certainly many Jews had been demonized by Germans. Today many extremists in the news say they “hate” America. Does that mean they would hate you, or me? Or is their vitriol directed toward our leaders and our policies? It was a sad example when Jonah, God’s chosen prophet, could not share God’s gladness over people who repented of their sins.
I know some people who believe so strictly in their world view and opinions they their attitude keeps them from God’s grace. Today our world is divided and bleeding due to unbending ideologies and attitudes based on generalizations and people who grandstand and inflame the dialogue. Police are demonized in one corner, and recently, people of color have been too. To use crude terms, who would want one’s enemy to be saved by God? Who wants “the enemy” to hear the good news of God’s grace? Who wants God to show mercy to Ninevites, or others? There are some today, who wish death on their enemies. But we recall the words of the wise leader, Mohandes Gandhi, who exclaimed “An eye for and eye makes the whole world blind.”
Jonah despised the Ninevites. Some in our world despise others just as strongly. But God’s grace and the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ saves those who say “yes” to God! Even before Jesus, God’s grace saved repentant Ninevites. Remember? They all repented. But Jonah never changed. He chose to stir the pot of bitterness, like the older brother did toward his prodigal brother in Luke 15. Now: look in the paper, look at the television; look at your neighbor, then look in the mirror. Who has an attitude? Who needs to choose grace over grudge? As it is written in Hebrews 12:15- “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” So may it be.
Jeffrey A. Sumner January 25, 2015