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This week as we continued our study of the Book of Jonah, we heard God reiterate his command to Jonah that he should travel to the wicked city of Nineveh and proclaim God’s message. We also read that the Ninevites, upon hearing God’s message of repentance, did something quite unexpected. They listened and repented:
"The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth." (Jonah 3:5).
As I read how the Ninevites from the king to the commoner repented, I realized something important about judgment:
I realized that God is the one and only true judge.
It’s so easy to point the finger. We deem a a person or a particular group of people wrong or evil or sinners or unsalvageable on the basis of their morals or ethnicity, their lifestyle or their religion or their choices. But is it up to us to judge?
By all accounts, the Ninevites were a deeply corrupt people, described as wicked by God himself. Yet in the end, God decided they were redeemable. He showed them compassion and did not obliterate their city. God gave them a second chance.
Would I have deemed the Ninevites worthy of forgiveness, or would their sins have simply been too heinous? Would I have written them off as unsalvageable?
Jonah did. When he learned that God showed compassion to the Ninevites, Jonah was angry and disgusted, and he begged God to take away his life, claiming death would be preferable than sharing space on earth with such a people.
And God simply relied, “Have you any right to be angry?”
That’s the crux of the story for me: do I have any right to be angry? Do I have any right to judge? Do I have any right to condemn, when only one holds that authority?
It’s easy for me to think of the Ninevites in the abstract. But let’s get tough. Who are your present-day Ninevites? Who would rank as least-deserving of God’s compassion? I’ll be frightfully honest: for me, the present-day Ninevites are sexual predators – pedophiles and rapists and sexual traffickers. While it’s easy for me to swallow this lesson when it’s the ancient Ninevites we're talking about, it’s a lot harder when I think of present-day sexual predators basking in God’s compassion.
But God tells Jonah, and me, that I don’t get to make that decision. It’s not up to me. I don’t have any right to be angry, no matter who God decides to show compassion to, no matter how undeserving they are in my eyes.
“Have you any right to be angry?” God asks.
And no matter how I slice it and dice it, the answer is always no.
Who are your present-day Ninevites? Who do you judge as unworthy of compassion and forgiveness?
Now it's your turn. Tell us how God is speaking to you through the Bible this week!