I’m getting ready for Alaska.
Dr. Chuck Swindoll and Insight for Living (IFL) have invited me to perform a few characters during the upcoming IFL cruise to Alaska. We’ll be taking the Inside Passage.
The Lord has a way of poking at me through my characters. Maybe you’ve experienced that during your own Bible study. It seems that, whatever character I’m performing (Jonah, in this case), something in that man’s life resonates with issues in my own life. Maybe that’s one reason the Lord chose to record particular experiences in the Bible — the universality of our struggles bind us in a common experience, despite being separated from those characters by thousands of years. We all find ourselves in the same boat, so to speak.
Jonah’s issue was one of forgiveness. He had trouble forgiving his enemies. And, make no mistake, his enemies were real. The Assyrians were the terrorists — the Islamic State — of his day, and they threatened Israel with their barbaric acts of torture, and their mockery of Israel’s God. The Assyrians habitually flayed their enemies alive, chopped off heads and stacked them in towering mounds, and tore young children from their mothers’ arms, then burned them alive in front of them. To my way of thinking, Jonah had a case.
In the beginning of the story, the Lord sends Jonah to announce judgement against the inhabitants of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, because of their wickedness. Jonah takes off in the opposite direction toward Tarshish. But God uses a fish to redirect his steps, and he winds up going to Nineveh — albeit reluctantly — with a message of God’s impending judgement: “At the end of 40 days, Nineveh will be overthrown.” As far as we know, that was the whole sermon. No call to repentance. No hint of possible forgiveness. Just judgement.
The Ninevites repented. Weeping. Sackcloth (they even draped their animals in sackcloth)! And, to Jonah’s consternation, God spared them.
The Lord taught Jonah an important lesson. Jonah knew intellectually that the Lord was “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in mercy,” (Jonah 4:2). In fact, that’s the main reason given for his attempted escape to Tarshish. He shuddered at the thought of those hated Assyrians — those terrorists — being spared God’s judgement. It was a far cry from the vengeance Jonah was hoping for. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t the payback they deserved.
But it was grace.
It was God’s gift to the terrorists, once they repented.
You don’t get to real/heart forgiveness by traveling the road of judgement.
Real forgiveness is a journey up the Inside Passage of the heart. Because the Lord doesn’t just want us to forgive our enemies (include the virtual terrorists in your own family who plot to hurt you and your loved ones).
He wants us to love them. Just as he loves us, and loved us — while we were still His enemies (Romans 5:8, 10).
Ask the Lord today to transform your heart. To help you love and forgive your enemies — including the terrorists — from your heart.