If you’ve read any of the old testament stories, you’ll find a common thread in the Israelite journey. God had stepped into their story many times and miraculously rescued them from oppressive nations and leaders. And so a legend that had started to form about God and the way he worked was that he would always be on their side no matter what. It was not an entirely false legend.
However, the problem with that legend is that they thought that they were God’s favourite nation. The margins of the story that they told themselves about the way God worked, were that God would always work on their behalf no matter what, and no matter who was against them. In fact to this day, depending on the group you are a part of, you’ll find people still using the phrase “God’s chosen people” when speaking with reference to the Israelites.
When you read through the old testament, you can initially get the erroneous impression that God is an Angry God. But what you find the more you read the bible is that God is always operating outside the margins of what we think of or expect. You see, the truth of the matter is that God is a gracious God. If you truly repent, and if you turn to him, the bible says that he is faithful and just and forgiving. He loves us so much, whether we are Israelites or assyrians. He loves us so much whether we live lives that acknowledge him or not. The minute we turn to him, he races towards us and embraces us. And this is exactly what he does in this story.
God is sheer grace and mercy and not easily angered.
And here’s the thing. We always have a way of projecting how we would act in certain situations onto God. We have a way of making God hate the things we hate and be against the people that are against us. But God is always operating in a way that is outside the margins of what we expect. In the end, his plan is more glorious than we would think.
In the bible, there is a story about a guy called Jonah. What most of us know about this tory is that he was swallowed by a big fish. But what is easy to miss about this story is that Jonah was running away from God because he did not want to be involved in God’s rescue plan for the city of Nineveh. Nineveh was a HUGE city for its’ time. About 120,000 people lived in it. As well, Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian empire and they were a violent, evil and oppressive neighbour to their neighbouring kingdoms. And the northern kingdom of Israel, to which Jonah belonged, were particularly oppressed by them.
So as you can imagine, Jonah would have rather seen them perish than watch God forgive them and rescue them. Jonah knew that God IS sheer grace and mercy and not easily angered. This is why he tried to run away!
In fact, in a tantrum, when God does not destroy the city, this is what he says:
“God! I knew it—when I was back home, I knew this was going to happen! That’s why I ran off to Tarshish! I knew you were sheer grace and mercy, not easily angered, rich in love, and ready at the drop of a hat to turn your plans of punishment into a program of forgiveness!
And so you have to ask yourself a question: What is more important – that a city of 120,000 people be destroyed, or that they are saved and find God and stop the systematic oppression and subjugation of the kingdoms around them? Jonah wanted retribution, but God wanted repentance. Jonah wanted judgement, but God wanted to show grace. Jonah wanted condemnation, but God wanted to show mercy. Jonah wanted a whole nation wiped out, but God wanted to SAVE a whole nation.
Here is the gist of this post: God is up to something that is so much bigger than we can imagine. The fact of the matter is that all of us are faced with interesting, and challenging situations in our lives. And the thing of it is that, all we know is what we can see and what we have experienced in the past. Our knowledge and our experiences are like margins in our lives, and we have a way of projecting our limitations and our margins onto God without understanding that he is working in amazing ways outside of what we can see or imagine.
So today I to invite you to start to enlarge your faith. I invite you to see that there is a perspective about your life, about your circumstances, about your challenges that is outside your margins. We may not be able to break out of our margins, but God can work in ways outside those margins because he does not share our limitations. But more than that, he has a plan of love and grace, that he is working out in this world, and if we lean in to him, we will find this to be true in our circumstances.
In the story of Jonah, you find that he would have loved nothing more than to see Nineveh destroyed. But God wanted something better for those Assyrians. God has never changed. The same God that would never reject a violent and evil people such as the Assyrians would never reject you… and I am pretty sure that you are not a violent and evil person! So, go ahead… step outside the margins of what you know, and step into a space of God’s incredible love and mercy.
And for some of you, I am going to ask you to step into a faith space for the first time. I am going to ask you to step towards God understanding that what you may have thought about him, or what you may have been told about him is wrong. I ask you to step around the mistakes of people that have claimed to be his representatives and enter into a space where you find what is true for you. You may have never been told that God is sheer grace and mercy, and that he is not mad at you, and he does not hold back from you simply because you have a checkered past or present. While people may reject you, God just wants to embrace you…