This post is meant to offer guidance to common “What now?” questions that could emerge from Pastor J.D.’s sermon on Jonah 2 preached at The Summit Church Saturday/Sunday January 14-15, 2012.

What a sad description of people; even sadder because it is true. “Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love (Jonah 2:8).” From the belly of a great fish Jonah is reflecting on what led to his demise. It was “vain idols” that caused him to drift from trust in God’s love.

The scary part is that Jonah was a prophet who was still used by God as this drift occurred. It is doubtful that the disdain for Nineveh that caused him to put country and personal offense ahead of God started the moment “the word of the Lord came to Jonah (1:1).” How Jonah was responding to atrocities of Nineveh was likely source of the “vain” (empty, useless, without comparative worth) idol that caused him to forsake God’s steadfast love – “to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord (1:3).”

Jonah’s “great sin” of active rebellion fleeing in the opposite direction of God’s call began with a bad response to suffering (Nineveh’s violently oppressive actions against Israel and surrounding nations). Seeing depravity at it most vile made Jonah forget his own desperate need for God’s grace. When God wanted to extend the same grace Jonah received to Nineveh, Jonah balked and forsook the hope of God’s steadfast love.

Whether we can relate to Jonah’s overt, opposite-direction rebellion against God that resulted in “bottoming out” in a living submarine in the depth of sea, we can definitely relate to Jonah’s subtle, shocked-at-evil step into idolatry. We all know who “the really bad” people are and we’re not them. We hear about them on the news. We’re not rapists, terrorists, or pedophiles.

If we thought being a recipient of God’s grace put us in that category and called us to share the gospel with someone who raped our child or blew up our brother, we (at least I) would be very tempted to “forsake my hope of God’s steadfast love.” Bringing Jonah’s assignment into my world makes me want to look for the ship to Tarshish. I am Jonah! I might take a suicidal leap from a ship in the middle of the ocean before I would carry my Bible into that maximum security prison.

I would resent sharing the same grace. I would resent “sharing” in terms of being washed in the same Savior’s blood much less “sharing” in the form of being God’s ambassador of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:20). As this resentment built, I could see how forsaking the hope of God’s steadfast love and looking for something else to base my life on (“vain idols”) would be so tempting. I am Jonah! Guilty as charged!

Yet even from the belly of the great fish Jonah came to his senses and said, “Yet you brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God (2:6).” Jonah was humbled. He realized he could not escape the evil he was trying to avoid traveling away from the presence of the Lord (1:3). Jonah brought the evil of allowing people to die based on his preferences with him, in his own heart, as he fled taking God’s message to Nineveh.

Jonah realized he must share (verbally communicated) God’s grace with Nineveh because he realized he shared (drank from the same fountain of life) God’s grace with Nineveh. By the end of the book it appears that while Jonah accepted this reality he had a hard time with it (4:11). Jonah could preach it as true, but he couldn’t sing it as joy.

I believe this impairs my ability to embrace and willingness to proclaim the gospel. The point is not whether I could muster the love to share the gospel with my brother’s murderer who posted a celebratory video on the internet before going “hunting.” The question can be as simple as, “Do I love my neighbor as myself?”  Am I willing to share my hope because I see myself as sharing their predicament? Am I as desperate for them as I am grateful that God was desperate for me?

Or have I become numb by the constant atrocities I see on the news and the hateful banter that permeates the media to a point that I see myself as “different” from real, hateful sinners as Jonah saw himself as “different “ from Nineveh? As soon as I think in “degrees of bad” instead of simply “need for grace” I fall into Jonah’s trap of forsaking the hope of God’s steadfast love.

If we use this reflection to remind ourselves to look at people as sharing our need for God’s grace, then it will become much more natural to share the message of God’s grace with those we see as being “like us.” Jonah’s vision was corrected by a crisis after overt rebellion and bottoming out. May God use Jonah to correct our vision where we are now.