Signs of Jonah
Listen to “Signs of Jonah” by Fred Smith
A friend mentioned he is re-reading Graham Greene’s “The Power and The Glory.” It’s the story of a failed priest on the run from the police. He is friendless, homeless, and searching for some sense of purpose in his life. Hiding from his calling and decisions he has made in the past he is ironically incapable of not being a priest and ministering to people – even at the risk of his life. Tormented by his own sense of guilt, he spends the whole of the novel both in flight and in pursuit.
It is so much like the life of Jonah. I don’t know if Graham Greene had him in mind as he wrote but how similar their stories are. I’ve been thinking about Jonah and his anger lately. I’ve had similar experiences over the years and have come to believe we all have at least one Ninevite in our lives – but probably more. Maybe I am more sensitive lately to the spirit and signs of Jonah in our own society. We have a hatred for others festering and bubbling up that is taking control of our lives.
Mine are not citizens of foreign cities or nation states. They are people I know or feel like I do because I cannot escape them unless I hibernate. These are the people in our lives who we believe deserve our wrath and God’s so we have allowed a small but spreading dark area of our hearts to grow around our outrage. We nurse and feed it. We protect it. There are people I consider hypocrites and sinners – but they are successful in ministry, business, politics, and life. Why don’t their thousands of followers see them as clearly as me? Why do their sins go unnoticed or even excused? The psalms say that the wicked strut about when what is vile is honored among men. They do. They strut and boast. How can they fool all of the people all of the time?
These are people about whom I enjoy hearing bad news. When I see articles about their failures I read and re-read them. I don’t skim. I absorb the details. I linger. I want to hear more. I want to retweet over and over again.
Running From Grace
There are more than a few I have met along the way who do not meet my standards or God’s. Scripture says the people of Nineveh were literally stupid about right and wrong. They had an excuse for their wickedness but I know my Ninevites willfully choose to be deceitful and I have become an expert in discerning their spin and fraud. I am a connoisseur of human frailty. I know their deep flaws and failures and, honestly, I don’t want to see them humbled in sackcloth..or not right away. Before that I want them exposed. I don’t want them to repent. I want them to be humiliated in public and, even then, be cast into the outer darkness to wail and gnash their teeth. I want justice. I want righteousness.
I believe that is why Jonah ran. He ran from this offensive grace he could not understand and, like Javert in Les Miserable, would have been unwilling to accept himself. He ran from the opportunity for freedom from his own self-destroying anger. He ran from love. Greene writes:
“… God is love. I don’t say the heart doesn’t feel a taste of it, but what a taste. The smallest glass of love mixed with a pint pot of ditch-water. We wouldn’t recognize that love. It might even look like hate. It would be enough to scare us – God’s love. It set fire to a bush in the desert didn’t it and smashed open graves and set the dead walking in the dark. Oh, a man like me would run a mile to get away if he felt that love around.”
It’s true, isn’t it? For some people their being unmasked or saved is not enough for us. First, we want to see them found out for who we know them to be – and they can repent afterwards. I want to see them on their faces waiting judgment. Then God can save them.
I know that holding on to anger is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. It’s true and only the measure of love that is enough to scare us and from which we long to run can save us. I would have headed to Spain myself and suppose I still do when God’s love for my Ninevites exposes me – not them – for who I am.
Jonah’s story is ours.
Art by Rosemarie Adcock (copyright)
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