(May 6, 2020)

Jonah 4:1But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry.

Let’s set the record straight: Once upon a time, the prophet Jonah was called by God. He disobeyed. He was swallowed by a fish. He almost died. God was gracious. Jonah lived. He preached. The people repent. Jonah is angry. He wanted them dead. THE END.

* * *

Seriously? There is no riding off into the sunset or suggestive open-ending that puts a smile on your face as you have that feeling that “all is well.” Nope. None of that. The story abruptly and provocatively ends with an angry prophet and a merciful God.

Many words come to mind about Jonah, including: hard-heartedness, hypocrisy, blame. But there is one thing above all that I just plain don’t understand about Jonah: where’s the guilt? Where is his sense of guilt?

That’s the puzzling thing about Jonah. I am pretty sure he does not go to our church.

We are good at carrying around all sorts of guilt and shame. Just sprinkle in a dash of fear, stir in some poor self-image, and voila! an endless cycles of beating yourself up will come naturally. After all, we tell ourselves we are guilty due to our past. That we are not doing enough now. That we are not good enough; that we are not really accepted; that we are just one big screw-up.

And while we are at it, be sure to dwell upon how we are failing in even the small things, like how we are feeling guilty that we can’t keep the house clean. Even when we cannot leave said house. So there must be no hope. Just more guilt. The verdict is in: we are guilty.

Guilt we know. It’s the “other” thing that trips us up: full-hearted, generous, let-go-of-our-bitterness, non-blaming, non-shaming, joyful, grateful, pure, seeing-ourselves-with-God’s eyes, loving forgiveness. Forgiveness is the gift of God. As Jonah’s life colorfully show us, the heart becomes hard without it.

If you are struggling with guilt and being forgiven, remember what Jesus said while hanging on the Cross said to his torturers: “Forgive them, Father. They know not what they do.” If He forgave them, He will forgive you. Forgiveness that big is so grand it is hard to take in. It is puzzling.

If you are having a hard time forgiving others, Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Do you have a big struggle in your life?

As Jonah shows us, living in forgiveness – and not guilt, blame, hard-heartedness, fault-finding and the like – is central to believer’s life. The story just does not quite work without it.

What does guilt – or better yet – how deep does forgiveness run in your life today? How much is it a part of your identity? Is there someone you need to forgive? It may even be yourself.