Question: You mentioned that God's reaction to Jonah was opposite from how he responded to Job. Why is this?
In the story of Jonah and Nineveh, one of the main themes brought out in the sermon was that even in judgment, God's heart is to show mercy, regardless of who we think "deserves" or is "worthy" of it. When God told Jonah to warn the people of Nineveh that judgment was coming, Jonah ran away because he did not want these people--who were truly oppressive, cruel, unjust, immoral, and by all accounts awful--to have a chance in responding obediently and humbly after hearing a message of judgment. He knew that if they repented, God would not hesitate to show mercy. And, like most of us, he was fine with God showing mercy to him and to his people, but did not want that same mercy to be given towards people he judged as unworthy. And yet despite Jonah's efforts to run away, God still comes after him, allowing him to another opportunity to live in obedience and humility. We would expect God to respond to him in frustration and anger, because, after all, Jonah should know better. Based on his actions, Jonah doesn't deserve mercy any more than the people of Nineveh do. And yet, despite what we would expect, God chooses to speak kindly to Jonah, provide for his phyisical needs, and remind him of his place as the creature, rather than the Creator.
In the story of Job, who lived in a completely different time, place, and situation than Jonah, a different question is being asked of God. Job experienced more pain, loss, heartache, and "unjust" treatment than most of us can begin to imagine. If we were to compare Job and Jonah based on their actions and character described in each of their stories, Job should receive the gold star and Jonah should be sent to the back of the line. We would expect God to respond in a similar, if not greater, tone of mercy and kindness to him, based on his response to Jonah. After a long process of wrestling with why so much pain and evil has happened to him, despite living a life that seeks to be faithful and obedient to God, Job finally hears a response (Job 38-41). In a nutshell, God's answer is that he is the Creator, who has more wisdom and knowledge and discernment and power and goodness and creativity than Job can ever imagine. His character cannot be called into question based on circumstances. And unlike Jonah, when Job hears this response from God, his reaction is one of completel humility, trust, and obedience.
It's easy for us to compare the ways God speaks to different people, especially when it's in our own lives and the lives of those around us. In The Horse and His Boy (one of C.S. Lewis' Narnia stories), the main character asks Aslan why he acted a certain way towards one of his friends, because it doesn't seem to make sense with how Aslan responded to his own situation. Aslan simply responds by saying, "Child, I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own." Does this mean that God is unpredictable in his character or plays favorites? Absolutely not. Each day we are asked to trust and respond to him in faith, regardless of what our circumstances tell us to believe. We can choose to believe, as Jonah did, that he is always good, full of mercy, grace, love, and justice (Jonah 4:2); and we can also choose to say with Job that nothing is too great for our God or beyond his control (Job 42:2).
Thanks so much for asking questions during our services. We hope this blog encourages and empowers us all toward a greater knowledge of who God is and the life he offers us in Christ. Each week responses are offered from different members of the teaching team at Mosaic. This response comes from Christy Averill.