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Jonah’s Bitter Spirit

It always seemed to me that the book of Jonah ended very abruptly and strangely. I thought of this while reading Hebrews 12:14–15. In addition to this certain attitudes in the society that promote a victim perception can have a bad effect on our attitudes toward one another, especially if we think we have been mistreated. I want in this post to share some of the ideas that I think we might be prone to and relate them to the passages I have mentioned. Let’s start with the one in Hebrews. 

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;

Hebrews 12:14–15. 

When I read this verse recently, I was very much struck by the opening word “Strive” (or, in another translation: “pursue”.). The image came to my mind of an athlete seeking a gold medal at the Olympic games, or some other major competition. This requires serious and focused effort. I was challenged regarding how much we really strive for peace. Why does it seem so difficult for us to “dwell in unity” even when it is so “good and pleasant” to do so (Ps. 133:1). The athlete will devote his energy to achieving his goal. Maybe that should be our model. 

But, there is a necessary guard. Since true peace comes from God, it cannot be gained at the expense of holiness. This is particularly important because we are being enjoined to strive for peace with “everyone.” But, holiness necessarily applies generally. If I am not holy, i.e., separated unto God, devoted to him (Matt. 6:22–23), then I will not have His mind and in that way will not “see” Him. I will not be able to properly pursue peace even with my fellow believers. 

The next sentence is really where we join Jonah and it also leads to a reason we fail to “dwell in unity”. If we do not truly appreciate how God has shown us His grace, we, like Jonah, will be unable to rejoice at the grace shown to others. Especially, if we have been offended our first reaction is often to strike back. If we avoid this fault then bitterness may gradually grow. Notice that this “root of bitterness” may then spread to contaminate relationships broadly. The phrase “root of bitterness” is interesting too. It reminds us that this comes from something very deep. This reminds me of the apostle’s words in Romans 7 and 8 regarding the “flesh.” 

But it is both the flesh and the world that unite to cause strife. A philosophy that promotes rebellion against “oppressors” by those who have been “victimized” has spread through our society in recent years. However much we might recognize intellectually the error of this philosophy it can nevertheless affect our thinking. We really need to guard our hearts and minds in these days where so much around us is opposed to God. 

Turning to Jonah, I find it so sad that we have no response from Jonah to the wonderful words of grace from God. The last words of Jonah “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die” are unspeakably sad. But, God does have the last word in this thought-provoking book. He reaffirms His grace to that “great city.” Where would we be without that grace shown to us? Are we too much like Jonah? I cannot help but think of the exchange between Peter and our Lord regarding forgiveness. 

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” 

Matthew 18:21–22. 

Whether we have been offended or are just discouraged—the Lord is at hand. 

The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 

Philippians 4:5b–7.

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