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Perspective on Justice—A Look At Jonah 4

Sometimes we let our emotions overrule our judgement. Sometimes you let someone cut in front of you when driving—because that’s what Christians do when we’re trying to be nice—but get frustrated when you’re stuck behind at the red light…and they weren’t. If only you hadn’t let them in, right? That would have been you going through the intersection instead, and you wouldn’t have had to wait.

It’s human, and it happens to all of us. It’s not fair, you think, added along with, Why are they getting ahead when I’m not? They don’t deserve to be rewarded. You reason with yourself that they were pushy and didn’t deserve to be let in, that it was out of the goodness of your heart that they were able to continue on with their day, and that, somehow, you should be thanked. Least of all, you shouldn’t be punished.

I think this is how Jonah felt in the Old Testament. He ran away from God’s command for his life—which was to warn the Ninevites to repent of their sin, or else God would bring destruction. He was scared and ran away, but eventually (with God’s prompting) accepted the task. As a result, the Ninevites actually repented of their sin (hallelujah!), and the Lord decided to not destroy them. Jonah should have been ecstatic. And yet, he was not happy at all—he was angry, frustrated that people who were known to be sinful got a “free pass”. Sound familiar?

This leads me to ask the question: What is fairness? What is justice?

It’s hard to say that the world we live in is fair, because it’s not. As a result, we as a people have become embittered. We tear people down when we see that they have more worldly success than we do. We look for flaws in people to make ourselves feel better. When you tell someone that you’ll pray for them, do you actually pray for them? Do you get on your knees and pray in earnest for their best interest, to see God move in their life? Or do you secretly wish that person doesn’t get what they hope for?

Jonah was angry with God for forgiving the Ninevites so quickly. He went out of the city of Ninevah to sit in the sun to die, because life wasn’t worth living. Chapter 4 begins as follows:

But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

Jonah 4:1-3

When reading through this book, I think it’s normal to be shocked at this reaction, but it explains Jonah’s anger. He wanted justice, and he considered himself better than the “sinners”. It’s not that he didn’t know that the God he serves is loving, it’s that he didn’t want to share that love with other people. Are you running away from God’s call on your life because you don’t want to share?

Jonah wanted God to destroy Ninevah, and left the city to pray against the city. But who are we to be elitist with God’s love? It is because of His giving nature that we’re even forgiven. We cannot change that generosity, nor should we want to. His heart is so generous, that even though Jonah wished death for the Ninevites, God still protected Jonah from the hot sun with a plant. And yet, when the plant dies, Jonah is again upset. It shows the reader that he feels entitled and righteous in his hatred and bitterness of the ones he’s meant to bring to Christ, and he’s hurting himself instead.

But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”

Jonah 4:10–11

So this brings me back to my questions: What is fairness? What is justice? From what I can tell, the answer is God’s love, in every situation.

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