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Mere Christianity: God's justice - 5

Jon Kennedy  

JONAL ENTRY 1256 | October 3 2012

When I started this thread I had no idea how much there was to say about it. Two last thoughts deserve mention, Jonah's preference of justice to mercy and God's perfect justice.

I mentioned the prophet Jonah in the second entry in this thread as an example of an Old Testament character who sometimes obeyed God but other times did not. Of course to put a fine point on it, all followers of God obey Him more readily in some cases and not so readily in others; even Moses tried to resist God's commands on several occasions in the biblical record, and in one terrible instance, King David—the apple of God's eye—had a great deal of repenting to do for putting his own will above God's. But a few of His followers, including Jonah, are especially famous for their resistance to God's will. God told Jonah to warn Ninevah that He was going to punish them for their evil ways if they did not repent.

But Jonah seems to have had the attitude that what makes being a prophet worthwhile is declaring God's judgment, wrath, and punishment, not second chances. Instead of heading to the city of Ninevah to fulfill his assignment, he got in a boat headed in the opposite direction. When the boat got into such harsh weather that it was close to capsizing, he admitted to the captain that the storm was God's attempt to get Jonah to obey Him and prophesy in Ninevah in time to get the city spared. The boat crew threw Jonah overboard, which he probably took as a sign that he wasn't going to be required to preach to Ninevah after all. But God had something else in store; he had a whale (Jesus calls it a whale, not a big fish) swallow Jonah and throw him up on the shore nearest Ninevah. So still reluctantly, Jonah passed through the city streets preaching repent. And despite the lack of enthusiasm and conviction, his audience repented; Ninevah was saved. And still Jonah resented God's mercy toward the Ninevites. He sulked; he must have really had a grudge against Ninevah, but why he disliked it so much is not part of the record, which tells me that God is more interested in whether we obey in spirit as well as in deed than our reasons or excuses for not doing so.

Jonah's preference to God's carrying out what he considered justice against his or Israel's enemies aligns well with the cursing Psalms discussed in the previous installment. The Old Testament Israel seems to have had a fixation on God's being a judge in temporal affairs, failing to realize that if He chose that role they would also feel His wrath as He would have a lot of shortcomings to charge them with. But getting Him to fight their battles was easier than fighting on their own behalf.

Most of the times in these reflections on the hard passages in the Old Testament, which always revolve around God judging, when I have said that He was not about justice or being a judge, I've qualified that by adding "among us" or "as we understand justice humanly." But of course in the larger sense, God is our judge, not between us and our neighbors, but between us and Him. We will face a day of judgment in which He will mete out His "sentence" on each of us. In some cases, it will be "well done, faithful servant," but more often it will be "depart from me, you worker of iniquity; I never knew you." And in this God's judgment is perfect because in everything, He is perfect. And as He told us through Jesus' words, because He is perfect we must also be perfect to be admitted into His perfect heavenly kingdom (Matthew 5:48). Any imperfection must be burned off in the Refiner's fire. Of course this perfection is beyond our grasp; it is only through our adoption through the work of Christ that we can hope to attain it.

Webmaster Jon Kennedy

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