Pastor Tom’s Note
August 21, 2017
GOD’S CHARACTER FOREVER
The declaration of the Name of God in Exodus 34:6-7 represents a foundational high point in the Scripture to define God’s character. He is merciful and He is just. He is “slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love,” “forgiving sin.” He is filled with compassion and mercy. However, this restorative justice doesn’t come at the expense of His retributive justice: “He will by no means clear the guilty.”
A SENSE OF BALANCE
The sense of balance between the two is extremely difficult for us to get. Jonah, the prophet of God struggled mightily with the idea. For him to embark on this mission of mercy to go to Niniveh was too much to take. Instead, he flees from “the presence of the Lord (three times the phrase in repeated in Jonah 1).
In his mind, if he shows compassion to the Assyrians (the empire that terrorized the ancient world for about 300 years), it cancels out retributive justice and the guilty will go unpunished. Somehow, Jonah knows that if he goes to Niniveh, God might be merciful enough to extend his mercy to the haters of the ancient world. As the story goes, Jonah was correct. He does ends up in Niniveh (via quite the ‘large’ detour, see Jonah 1-2) and, sure enough, the Ninivites “believed God” (Jonah 3:5) and “turned from their evil way” (3:10). In fact we know these reformed haters are now in God’s presence (Matthew 12:40-41). Yahweh is indeed “abounding in steadfast love” and ready to forgive even the worst sinners! Jesus didn’t come to save the righteous but sinners like you and me (Luke 5:32).
YOUR ANGER DOESN’T REFLECT THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD (James 1:20)
Jonah’s reaction to God’s patience is anything but. After seeing that God “relented,” Jonah throws a mighty tantrum (4:1) and the rest of the story further exposes Jonah’s impatience and anger at God’s mercy for Niniveh. He just doesn’t get it that God can in fact balance His mercy with His judgment. Subsequent Assyrian generations soon went back to their old ways. Nahum, another prophet who came some 150 years later, will confirm the reality of retributive justice: “The Lord is slow to anger and….the Lord will by no means clear the guilty” (Nahum 1:3). The entire world claps when Assyria receives its just judgment as a world-class oppressor: “All who hear the news about you clap their hands over you. For upon whom has not come your unceasing evil?” (Nahum 3:19).
IT’S ALL ABOUT YOU
What can we learn from Jonah and Nahum? We too need the patience to wait. Without a sense of balance between restorative and retributive justice in God’s character, we will not be free to live out the Gospel which calls us to love and show mercy to our enemies (Matthew 5:43-58). We can all fill in the blank as to who these modern-day Assyrians are in our society. In fact Peter (not quite the patient man himself!) makes it about you and me when he says, “The Lord…. is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
Points of application:
- Don’t fuel anger and impatience on Social (aka antisocial) Media. We need to trust that God’s got the perfect balance between His mercy and His justice and He alone knows the time when to apply which.
- Be on a mission of mercy. Follow Jesus’ example and shake hands with haters/enemies but don’t leave it there: call them to salvation and repentance of their evil (see Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10).
- God is patient with you, so be patient with others.