Read: Jonah 2
Reflect: It was hard for me to believe; six months and out the door. Sue (name changed) and I were having lunch to discuss her recent marriage and upcoming divorce. Her groom had quickly broken his wedding vows. Sue professed being a believer. Prior to the marriage, Sue disregarded her counselor who strongly urged Sue not to get married. Her fiancé was not a Christ follower. Now she was drowning in a sea of regret. I mentioned some Scriptures that might help and Sue adamantly said, “How can Scripture help? After all, we know that the Bible is made up of a lot of fables. Take Jonah and the whale for instance.”
Jesus seems not to have had the same attitude about Scripture as Sue. He referenced the account as literal in Matthew 12:40-41. Sue discounted Jonah. It’s interesting that she and Jonah shared the same tragic mindset toward the sanctity of God’s Word and commands. God told both Sue and Jonah to turn right and they both ran in the opposite direction. Sue ran into a disaster of a marriage and Jonah took a ship to nowhere. Regardless, Sue wanted God to make her happy again, even though she had rejected His Word. Jonah wanted to again breathe on dry land.
Sue and Jonah shared something else – a lack of repentance. Regret is quite different than repentance. Sue regretted her unhappiness and Jonah regretted his lack of oxygen. Regret is a sadness or disappointment over something that has happened. Repentance is to rearrange your entire way of thinking, feeling, and behavior in order to forsake that which is wrong. Sue regretted losing her marriage. She was not interested that God could have a good plan for her life. Jonah regretted not being on dry land. They shared regrets but not repentance.
A truly repentant heart is expressed by David: Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin. For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night. Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight. Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Oh, give me back my joy again; you have broken me—now let me rejoice. Don’t keep looking at my sins. Remove the stain of my guilt. (Psalm 51:2-9 NLT) Contrast this with Jonah’s prayer in Jonah 2. Do you hear Jonah recognizing his rebellion; owning up to his sin? Did he confess the enormity of his disregard of God? Or was his prayer a “hail Mary”? The kind of prayer you utter when you have used all your lifelines. It’s the scream of one drowning.
Jonah had purposely turned the opposite direction from God and ended up being cast into the sea. Our merciful God did rescue Jonah but let him flounder around in the insides of a fish for three terrifying days. Yes, Jonah did end up going to Nineveh and fulfill the original command given by God. Yet if you look at Jonah 4, Jonah became angry at God for being God and God’s extending mercy to the Ninevites when they repented. Jonah even threw a tantrum when the shade tree he was sitting under wilted. God addressed the real heart disease of Jonah in 4:10-11: Then the Lord said, “You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly. But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”. Jonah was still going in the wrong direction, running away from the merciful and just God Who knows what is right. I wonder if Jonah ever came to terms with God?
Apply: I still wonder if my friend Sue ever came to accept the God Who knows what is right and can be trusted. Did she ever repent of her heart attitude? Did she recognize her rebellion? Did it haunt her day and night? Just because one sinks to the depths doesn’t mean one has a truly repentant heart. Maybe your heart needs a checkup on its own relationship to God. Has sin taken up residence? Don’t be a Sue and definitely don’t be a Jonah.