If you were raised in the church (and even if you weren’t), then you have almost certainly heard the story of Jonah and the big fish. It’s one of the most well-known and beloved stories in the Bible. It captivates children and skeptics alike. What is the point of this strange Old Testament story? A reluctant prophet who runs from God is thrown overboard, swallowed by a great fish, and then thrown up on shore—it’s really quite bizarre!
Jonah is first and foremost a story about God. The small book of Jonah presents a God who is relentless in His pursuit of sinners and abounding in grace toward those who run from Him. When you read Jonah, you should walk away marveling at the nature and character of God—He will gather to Himself people from every tribe and nation, and nothing will stop Him.
God’s actions toward Jonah display His amazing grace. Even after Jonah runs from God and is vomited onto the shore, God gives him another chance. As with most second chances, Jonah doesn’t deserve one, but God is merciful and gracious nonetheless. Jonah had experienced God’s grace in the past, but he had forgotten. I assume that one of the first things you do when you find yourself in the belly of a fish is pray—and that’s exactly what Jonah did. He remembered God’s grace and affirmed God’s power as he declared, “Salvation belongs to the Lord!” Jonah was right; his only hope was the kindness of God. When Jonah remembered God, and when God restored Jonah, the people of Nineveh received their warning. Have you ever noticed how the book of Jonah ends? Jonah is angry with God for showing mercy on the city of Nineveh. How could this be? After all that Jonah had experienced, why isn’t he rejoicing that God had spared the Ninevites from His judgment?
Before we harshly judge Jonah, we should remember that we are very much like him. We experience God’s grace in a thousand different ways every day, and yet we run. Through Christ’s death and resurrection, God rescues sinners. But those who have been saved by grace alone, over time, become calloused. We lose our wonder and we begin to act as if we deserve God’s kindness. In other words, we act a lot like Jonah.
If you have experienced God’s saving grace, live in gratitude for what you have received. If you think you’re beyond God’s grace and forgiveness, please understand that God’s grace offers second chances—His kindness knows no end.