"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 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. Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live."
But the LORD replied, 'Have you any right to be angry?'" Jonah 4:1-4 (NIV)
I was indignant and as angry as a hornet! One of my siblings had gotten into my locked diary, read my private thoughts, and was now teasing me about its contents--in front of others! On top of that, to my horror, I was having to try to blink back tears of humiliation that, in my pride, I did not want my taunter to see. I was failing miserably. Finally, in an effort to escape hearing my private words being repeated verbatim to me, I fled to my room and slammed the door behind me. Shaking with rage, I flung myself on my bed and cried until I could cry no more.
My mom came into my bedroom some time later. She came to tell me that she had forcefully reprimanded the guilty party and that my perpetrator was now ready to apologize and ask my forgiveness. I sat back on my pillows with a smug expression on my girlish face. My mother thought that reconciliation was just around the corner. Ha! Little did she know what was in my steely-cold, scorned heart. As she went to call the offender in, I savored the expression that I hoped was going to be on the other's face. I secretly relished inflicting pain. Revenge seemed sweet.
My mom came back in and asked for the apology to be spoken in my presence. I flinched a little. Unfortunately for me, it appeared that there was genuine sorrow on that face whose lips spoke the apology. That took away a little of my desire to exact revenge. Let me repeat, a little! I sat there stone silent on the pillows after the contrite confession was made and forgiveness was asked for. My mom looked at me and said her classic line, "Okay, now hug each other and say, 'I love you.'"
Here was my chance. Usually quick to comply with my mother's wishes, I did not look up as I flatly said, "I will never forgive you for what you did. NOT EVER!"
I heard my mom gasp, "Shawn!!" as sobs broke out from the other, just as I had hoped. Strangely though, it wasn't nearly as sweet as I thought it would be to hear those tears.
After my bedroom door closed again, allowing my mom to be alone with me, she sat down on my bed next to me.
"Shawnee, those words you just said must never be said by you again."
"Well, [the perpetrator] doesn't deserve my forgiveness!" I retorted.
"Shawn, none of us deserves God's forgiveness, but He doesn't ever withhold it from us. We have to forgive because He has forgiven us."
Do you remember Jonah and the great fish (no, there is no mention of the word "whale" in the short book of Jonah in the Scriptures!)? It definitely had to be one of the top-ten Sunday School stories of all time. How exciting (and incredible!) that a man survived three days in the belly of a fish. Jonah, like me, had a problem offering forgiveness to someone else. Nineveh was a wicked city who would come against Jonah's descendants and carry them away from their land. Jonah knew that. And Jonah knew something else that angered him more than anything else: God would not destroy the city if its inhabitants confessed their wickedness to Him and repented. Jonah ran away. He didn't want to help Nineveh find his God. And so God sent a great fish to swallow Jonah up after he had been thrown overboard into the raging sea.
After three days of sitting in salt water and seaweed, even going to Nineveh looked good to Jonah. Nothing like nauseating smells, the constant wetness against his skin, and the darkness of the belly of the fish to make compliance with God's wishes seem the way to go after all. Jonah did go to Nineveh, quickly said what God had told him to say, and waited outside the city to see God destroy the city.
To Jonah's horrified rage, the fire from heaven never fell. The king of Nineveh believed what God had said would happen and had the whole city repent in sackcloth. Even the animals had to participate. And God's great big Daddy heart was moved. His mercy was poured out on Nineveh. Jonah's worst fears were realized--God accepted the contrite confession of his enemies and did not punish them as their sins deserved.
Because of my humiliation over my secret thoughts being exposed to others, I did not want to be merciful to the one who begged forgiveness. And that is what shows that I am a human being who does not begin to know the meaning of love. God does not display attributes of love as I do; He is love (I John 4:16). I say I love others but the apostle Paul gave us the standard of love that our Father in heaven always keeps perfectly:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (I Corinthians 13:4-7)
No, I do not love like that. Our God is not willing that anyone, my enemy or friend, should perish but that all should come to repentance and escape an eternity separated from Him. When He hears the contrite confession of the worst sinner, He can't keep Himself from drawing near and forgiving.
What right do I have to withhold my forgiveness, to act as judge and jury on someone else's worthiness, no matter what he or she might have done to me? Only God Himself knows the true horror of what an eternity without Him is like. I do not wish that on anyone. Neither does He. He is a Daddy, after all-the perfect Daddy-who runs with His forgiveness when His returning, wayward child is still a long way off. He rushes to cover His child's nakedness with His own robe and puts His ring and sandals on His heartbroken and forgiven baby. He rejoices because what was lost to Him has now been found. He takes the spilled blood of His Son, Jesus Christ, and through it, rights all offenses committed against Him.
Oh, Jesus! I do not think as You think. I do not love as You love. I praise Your Father and mine for His great, big Daddy heart that allows Himself to be moved with compassion whenever anyone who is truly seeking You calls out for forgiveness.