“Then the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?”
We will limit today’s devotional to just one verse, because this verse is so powerful. Have you ever noticed the power of a good question? “What do you want to be when you grow up?” for instance, is more than a question. It causes a child to ponder their life’s directions and as they get older to consider those directions in relationship to their beliefs and values. Far more than the simple question relative to what one wants to be, though, are questions targeting the heart of a person, especially those spiritual in nature. “Do you know where you will go when you die?” or as one (unknown) author put out there, “If you were to get to heaven, why would God let you in?”
There are questions, though, that the heart feels compelled to respond to. A good question doesn’t need to send any kind of hidden message, because the right question when asked of the heart has a way of stirring up the conscience and letting the spirit of the recipient do the hard work of exposure and conviction. Some people respond to it in faith; many respond to it with running, hiding, and ignoring as best they can. That is exactly what verses like John 3:17-19 have in mind:
“For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”
Notice in Jonah 4:4 that God didn’t indict Jonah, He simply asked him something that was hard to dodge. “Is it right for you to be angry?” While a bit rhetorical in nature, there is also a necessary response to this question. Oftentimes, there are two sides to the pressure one feels from a piercing question, and we’re not sure whether that pressure is coming from outside of us or it’s simply the conscience raring its ugly head by a cage-rattling inquiry.
If God taps us on the shoulder, who are we to disrespect Him with the silent treatment? This is the root issue with all sin, anyway: crossing a line within before we cross another person. As said before, God can put pressure on us, but the design of the conscience is such that He also knows the pressure it creates within.
Before we ever sin against God or other people (all sin is ultimately against Him), we first choose to permit ourselves to do so. Sin, therefore, is a reflection of our character, not a justified response to someone else for whatever they have done to us (or we feel they have done to us). Many responses to others, by the way, are often perceptions of offense and if we will not seek to understand their intentions, we will inevitably misrepresent them to ourselves and perhaps to others. Only we can grant ourselves the permission to sin in violation of God’s commands; no one makes us do it. Again, it’s not that we have the authority to grant ourselves permission, but one of the first steps of sin is allowing ourselves the right to do that which we know isn’t acceptable to God.
Now, back to the question God posed to Jonah in v. 4. If Jonah responded, “Yes,” the simple answer would have revealed a lot about his heart as well as his position on his personal authority over the feelings and thoughts he harbored within himself. Remember that the Ninevites sinned against God, but Jonah took it personally towards himself. Jonah’s anger was indicative of his pride, seeing his feelings of offense as greater than God’s offense, thus causing him to desire the Ninevites’ destruction even when God had chosen to forgive them. This, in a nutshell, is how we allow ourselves to withhold forgiveness where God has offered it freely.
God was small to Jonah, small enough that his being offended meant more to him than God being offended. If you ever get offended by someone else’s actions, be those actions intentional or not, stop and ask yourself about how God might feel about this and concern yourself most with that answer. People need to be reconciled to God first and foremost, not to us.
In a reverse logic, think about it this way: if you were in good relational standing with someone else but they were completely disobedient to God, or dead to Him relationally, would you care? The Ninevites reconciled with God but Jonah’s concern was about what he felt they had done to him, not God. What if the Ninevites did everything in their power to console Jonah but neglected God? If that would have been suitable to him, a host of problems would become immediately apparent.
Now, if Jonah responded, “no” to God’s question, then he would have to acknowledge that his response was wrong and that his thoughts, feelings and actions must be corrected. The power of the question is in the self-reflection it immediately induces, unless someone has chosen to block it out to avoid performing this inner examination.
In looking at the larger context, we see that Jonah does not give a response until asked later on in the same chapter about the rightness of his anger. Why no response? Deducing from the passage, it is because he does not want to let go of his anger yet. Obedience, though, is not just about coming around to the same page as God, but doing so when He calls us to do it, not when we’re good and ready. Draw a parallel with that and how some people view Hell: “I’ll be ready to repent when it suits me.” Only in this world can a person repent and why, if we could see clearly the offense we’d caused, would we wait to make it right?
Have you ever wanted to be angry but knew that it was wrong? Have you ever harbored any sinful attitudes knowing that they were wrong? Most people who want to hold on to their sin do not want accountability. Make no doubts about it, one of the themes travelling through this book is that very issue. It’s not a popular subject nor is it an activity people are lining up to participate in, churched or not. Oftentimes we walk into it dragging our feet and then some, but one of the most amazing things about coming into the light of God’s mercy is the love we find when we finally step into that light.
How does God hold us accountable? God holds us accountable through the reading of His word; He holds us accountable through other believers and through leaders; He holds us accountable by simply convicting us as we ponder our choices, too. Accountability is like a mirror to the soul, and if our spiritual “hair” is messy and our spiritual “shirts” are disheveled, it is in our best interest to look in the mirror that we might address problems that had eluded us before.
“I’m fine, I’ll figure it out, just let me be!” someone might say. Is it really true, though? Sometimes the greatest grace that we can receive in the moment is loving accountability, because God is more invested in our transformation than He is in just keeping us comfortable. It’s an act of mercy to stop us from the direction we were headed, and an act of grace to call us to a better way that God will empower with that grace as we comply with Him.
Chapter Four of the book of Jonah seems to reveal to us why Jonah was chosen as the man for the job. God could have called anybody of His choosing, but He chose the man Jonah, who needed to be held accountable but also served to preach a message of accountability to an entire nation of pagan people. It’s as if to say, “Jonah, you may call it forth in others, but you are not above it yourself.” Remember, this is a sign of God’s care, not His punishment. Until we see it as such, we’ll be looking for the nearest exit.
When the Ninevites were held accountable, they responded with brokenness, responsibility, and a cry for God’s mercy; the opposite response would look like stonewalling, hardness, or refusal to alter course. We should grow to be more afraid of justifying our sins than we are of being confronted about them. Like bumpers for bumper bowling, God does not address our hearts for the sake of condemnation but for the offer of merciful course correction. It’s one of the road markers that we’re actually on the right path when we see mercy calling us back and grace pushing us towards godliness.
Have you grown to see the accountability that God sends our way as a sign of His love, or is it still something you might despise? Think of God’s exposure and the conviction within as a sign of His love and as life in Him, not the absence of it. When God calls something out in us, it’s only our perception of that action that makes us come out of our shells or, sadly, bury our heads in the sand even more.
Perhaps one of the most loving acts of God in the book of Jonah is the accountability factor both for the Ninevites and for Jonah. The same is true for us as well. The question is, “What will we do towards God when he touches upon the nerves of our sin?” Perhaps we don’t even feel like something we’re doing is all that wrong, but if God wants it gone, will we give it up? Growth in Christ means losing parts of ourselves that can’t continue on, and gaining character that God won’t let us see Him without. He is preparing us for glory, you know?
If God speaks to your heart, whether it’s comfort, hope, or even conviction, all are relative to the truth and it’s the truth that sets us free. Praise Him for that!
Thank you for your time! I wish you well-
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.