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Uprooting Bitterness

I recently spoke on Jonah at a women’s retreat.  I’ve taught the material before and have always stopped at the end of Jonah chapter three.  Honestly, chapter four is just so strange; it reads like a terrible movie ending.  You know the ones: those irritating movies that end abruptly without plot resolution.  But this time the Lord wouldn’t let me skip over Jonah’s pity party reaction to God saving Nineveh.

The entire book of Jonah drips with irony, but perhaps in no place more poignantly than the outset of the final chapter.  If ever there was cause for rejoicing, the first three chapters provided plenty of fodder.  God showed his mercy to Jonah by giving him a great commission and then pursuing him with a storm, pagan sailors, and a great fish in the midst of his disobedience.  God turned Jonah’s heart back toward Himself and graciously issued His commission a second time.  God mercifully rescued the pagan sailors who witnessed Yahweh’s power and turned from their idolatry to worship the one, true God.  And, of course, God turned the hearts of the Ninevites over in repentance and relented from sending disaster to their city.

Yet, after all of these incredible displays of God’s mercy, we find Jonah burning with anger as he waits outside of Nineveh hoping for its destruction.  In fact, Jonah is so bitter that he’s suicidal.  Jonah obeyed God, doing what God wanted; but God had not done what Jonah wanted.  As it often does, Jonah’s anger occurred as a result of an unmet goal.  He thought God should show the evil Ninevites justice, but God showed them compassion. Also, as my pastor has wisely said, anger results from fearing that we’re not loved and validated.  Jonah forgot how God’s mercy had been so evident in his own life!

This time when I studied the end of Jonah’s story I saw undeniable parallels to the parable of the Prodigal Son.  Jonah became like the elder brother whom bitterness consumed.  Though the elder brother had always been with the father and had access to all of his resources, he deeply resented his father’s extravagant display of compassion toward his wayward younger brother.  In short, he forgot the love of the father.

Jonah serves to illustrate the truth of Hebrews 12:15 – “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.” Bitterness, anger, nastiness, or ungratefulness are the result of missing the grace of God.  These Pharisaical, “elder brother” sins so easily grow from a small thought to a consuming attitude when we fail to remember the gospel.  When we forget God’s merciful acts and his gracious intervention in our lives fear takes the wheel and inset anger results.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live like the elder brother and miss out on the celebration!  I don’t want to forego reveling in God’s compassion to the undeserving because I’ve forgotten how undeserving I am.

God, help me remember your goodness…

Ashlee Johnson

Ashlee is the wife of a pastor, mom of two busy little ones, and a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Seminary. She is passionate about communicating the truths of Scripture to women and magnifying Jesus as the All-Satisfying Treasure and Almighty Redeemer. She has lived in North Carolina for most of her life and loves making the most of the sidewalks and parks in her 1940s neighborhood. Ashlee enjoys healthy eating and exercising, but finds it nearly impossible to resist homemade cookies!

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