Saturday, October 9, 2021

Running Against God

“I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” – Jonah 4:2 

“Les Miserables” by Victor Hugo is one of the best loved novels of all time. You’ve probably seen one of the many adaptations in a movie or musical. It tells the bittersweet story of Jean Valjean, a poor wood-chopper’s son who grew up as an orphan. When he was just 17, after his brother-in-law died, the responsibility fell on Valjean to provide for his sister’s seven young children. But he didn’t earn enough money to even feed them. So, one winter night, he went out, broke a baker’s window and stole a loaf of bread. The next morning he was arrested for stealing. His bleeding hand convicted him.

Valjean was sentenced to five years of hard labor in prison. But because of numerous escape attempts that added to his sentence, Valjean ended up serving 19 years in prison—for stealing a loaf of bread for his family. By the time he was released, he was bitter, mean and mad at the world. As he traveled from town to town, nobody wanted anything to do with him. Finally, Valjean went to the house of a Catholic bishop, who took him in, fed him and gave him a bed for the night. But after the bishop fell asleep, Valjean stole all of his silver knives and forks and fled. Early the next morning, five soldiers brought Valjean back to the bishop’s house, explaining that they were arresting him for stealing the silver. But the bishop turned to Valjean and said, “I gave you the candlesticks, too. Why didn’t you take them?” And then he turned to the soldiers and said, “It was a mistake to arrest him. Let him go. The silver is his. I gave it to him.”

As the soldiers left, Valjean whispered to the bishop, “Is it true that I am free? I may go?” And the bishop responded with some of the most wonderful words ever penned in a novel: “Yes. But before you go, take your candlesticks. Jean Valjean, my brother: you belong no longer to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I am buying for you. I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of hate, and I give it to God!” From that moment on, Jean Valjean was a changed man. His heart belonged to God, and he spent the rest of his life loving and serving others. Years later, as Valjean lay on his deathbed, there was something familiar in the room just a few feet from his head:  those two silver candlesticks that for years had reminded him of God’s great mercy and grace.

If only the prophet Jonah had had as much compassion for the people of Nineveh as the good bishop had for Jean Valjean! But in chapter 4 of the Book of Jonah, we see that isn’t the case. After running from God’s will, then doing an about-face after being spat up by a whale, Jonah walked into the city of Ninevah and preached ONE sermon—and over 100,000 people repented from their wickedness. Jonah should have been thrilled. Instead, we read that “Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry” (v. 1). And he prayed this angry prayer: “O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee 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, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live” (vs. 2-3).  

You see, Jonah—like most Israelites of his time—hated the Ninevites, because it was prophesied that Assyria was going to wipe out Northern Israel, and Nineveh was one of the biggest cities in Assyria. The Jews considered Assyrians their mortal enemies. So Jonah would have preferred that the Assyrians NOT repent … for them to die a horrible death rather than be spared by God … to burn in hell for all eternity rather than go to heaven. At least at that moment, Jonah despised the compassion of God.

Jonah didn’t want to see this basic truth: If Jonah was saved, his salvation was for others. As Bible commentator Michael Griffiths puts it:  “If Jonah receives the call, if he is truly saved, it is for others. We must be permeated by the conviction that if grace is being conferred on us, it is primarily for others. The Christian is not just the man who is saved by Christ, he is the man whom God uses for the salvation of others by Christ.” The same holds true for you and me. Jesus Christ has given salvation and grace TO us so that He can give salvation and grace THROUGH us. We must never hoard them.

Honestly, we’re more like Jonah than we like to admit. We’re more than happy to receive Christ’s salvation. But we want to keep it to ourselves, especially when we’re around people we can’t stand. We’ve somehow missed or ignored the reality that every blessing from God in our lives was given to us to be shared. Your salvation is supposed to be shared. Your spiritual gifts, talents and abilities are supposed to be shared. Your house, your car and your food, your time and your money, are all supposed to be shared.

Every good and perfect gift that has ever come across your path is from God, and it was given to you to share. So, let’s be more like the good bishop (selfless, generous and compassionate) and not like Jonah (selfish, stingy and judgmental). As Jesus tells us in Matthew 10:8: “Freely you have received. So, freely give.”

Dane Davis is the Pastor of Impact Christian Church. Please join us for our in-person worship service Sundays at 9 a.m. at 17746 George Blvd. in Victorville. Or, join us online at 10 a.m. on the Impact Christian Church YouTube channel or Facebook page. For more information, visit

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