Old Testament prophet Jonah has always been a strange one to me.
First of all, if I were called to preach to the capital of a wicked kingdom like Assyria, I might be a little nervous about the reception I would receive, but I think I would be fired up. You know, the chance to be used by God, to see him move mightily, etc. Yet Jonah receives a call to preach in Nineveh, and famously turns the other way. Strange.
We find out why as we read the short book. Jonah is ticked off that God would even consider forgiving this wicked, war-faring people. Even at the end of the book, Jonah is still mad at God for being merciful. And Yahweh is still reasoning with him…
“Should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left…?” Jonah 4:11 (ESV)
Jonah’s behavior seems strange to us in the west, but I imagine many of his fellow Israelites would have patted him on the back for at least trying to get away from such a “horrible” mission.
You see, Jonah’s problem is our problem: culture. We imagine we know how God should be, but our picture of him is too easily derived from our culture. Jonah was middle-eastern, and in the culture of the Ancient Near East, forgiving your enemies was a particularly hard pill to swallow.
Rob Bell, modern day Jonah…in reverse
Which brings us to Rob Bell, a modern day Jonah…in reverse. In rejecting Hell, Mr. Bell has discerned exactly how God should be, yet his picture of God is not derived from the Scriptures, though he captures some unwitting folks by talking a lot about being a disciple of Jesus and throwing a Bible verse in here and there. But in fact, nobody spoke more about Hell in the Bible than Jesus, and Rob Bell’s picture of God is direct from modern-day western culture.
So where Jonah speaks to God of a wicked people, “I can’t believe you would forgive them,” Rob Bell says, “I can’t believe you wouldn’t.” Either way, it’s the same basic error – a refusal to accept God as he is in his word.
The application for us is simple: don’t trust your gut. When Scripture speaks, trust it instead. Otherwise you will end up with a god of your own making, and the relationship you think you have with the true God will be a mirage. For the Scriptures tell us that Yahweh is indeed a forgiving God; his forgiveness, however, comes at a price, which he paid for Old and New Testament saints…at Calvary.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5 (ESV)