Yesterday in church we talked about letting go of those things that happen in our lives that cause us to become bitter, angry and hard people. And to instead become kind, loving and forgiving. Well, today in my devotions I found myself in the book of Jonah. This was a very fitting place to be the day after that message.
You see, the story of Jonah contains a great lesson for us about God’s compassion and man’s anger and bitterness. Why did Jonah run away when God called him to go to Nineveh? Well, we don’t really find that answer until the end of the book. But before we get there, let me remind us of the story. Jonah was a prophet of God and God told him to go to Nineveh to preach against it. But Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh, so he went in the other direction and boarded a ship for Tarshish. But God would not let Jonah get away. He sent a storm that stopped the ship and threatened to sink it, but when the sailors realized that Jonah was the reason for the storm they through him overboard. Then God had a big fish come along and swallow Jonah whole and while he was in the fish, Jonah prayed and repented and told God that he would obey. And so God had the fish vomit Jonah onto the dry land. And Jonah did obey and go to Nineveh and preached there. And the people of Nineveh responded to Jonah’s message and repented of their sins and God spared their city. Then in chapter 4 we find out why Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh in the first place. In Jonah 4:1-3 we read, “But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the Lord, ‘O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at hom? 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. Now, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.'”
Isn’t that sad? Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh, and actually ran away from God, simply because he knew that if he went to Nineveh and preached that the people would repent and God would have compassion on them and not destroy their city. And Jonah didn’t like that because he wanted God to destroy Nineveh. Nineveh was a bad city and they had caused much pain on Jonah’s people, and Jonah was bitter about that. And so he didn’t want to see them spared. He had no compassion for them. He wanted them destroyed. And so he tried to run away, but he eventually obeyed God and after the people responded and God spared the city, Jonah was angry.
But notice what God says in verse 4, “But the Lord replied, ‘Have you any right to be angry?'” That is a great question for us. Do we have any right to be angry? Do we have any cause to be bitter? We look upon those who have harmed us with bitterness, and scorn, but God loves them. He hates their sin, but He loves them. We need to be willing to let go of the things that happen to us and move on with our lives.
Holding on to things, becoming bitter and staying angry is easy. It is much harder to forgive, to be kind and to have compassion. But God calls us to those things. We need to get rid of bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander and malice. And we need to be kind, compassionate and forgiving. We need to let God’s love for us overflow in our lives so that we too will love others.