Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.
If you’re gambling with your life, I’m guessing you’ll put more of your money on compassion than on wrath. Fortunately, this ninth verse of chapter three in the Book of Jonah is not the only sentence in the Bible on God’s compassion and anger. Though there are verses on the wrath of God sprinkled here and there, there is a literal flood of hundreds of verses in the Bible reminding us of God’s amazing compassion towards humans.
For example, try out Psalm 103, verse 8, a sentence repeated throughout the Old Testament dozens of times:
The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
Four descriptions of God’s heart. One about anger, the other three about compassion, grace and abounding love. Even the one about anger tells us that God is slow to anger. How does all this compare with your picture of God?
Even if Jonah 3, verse 9 was the only sentence we had about God’s character, I’d still put my money on God’s compassion as opposed to God’s anger, gambling that God may yet relent and act towards me with compassion. Who in their right mind prefers wrath to compassion?
The King of Nineveh also puts his money on the table, spins the wheel and gambles on compassion. I’m not sure how you feel about gambling. Of course, too much of the gambling industry takes advantage of a person’s weakness or addictive lifestyle, promising more that can be delivered, and ultimately pushing people into emptiness.
But the King of Nineveh is not only gambling with his life. He’s gambling with the life of a nation. Previously, the Kings of Nineveh had gambled away tens of thousands of his people’s lives over a period of several hundred years, marching off on military campaigns of aggression among all its neighbors, including the tiny nation of Israel, 800 miles to the southwest.
The Assyrian Empire was the big bad boy in the near east during this time, conquering nearly every nation in the near east, including the Babylonians, the Hittites, and the Egyptians, expanding its dominion from sea to sea, from the Mediterranean Sea in the west to the Red Sea in the south to the Persian Gulf in the east. The Assyrians, with its capital city of Nineveh, were were the nation to be feared, the wrathful people. Jonah and his little nation of Israel hated them.
So, when we hear the King of Assyria change his gambling habits, moving all his money from violent conquest over to God’s compassion, it stands out as something of a miracle. The possibility of God’s wrath gets the kings attention. Who knows? God may relent. The fear of God’s wrath has stirred the imaginations of many over the course of history.
Today, God’s wrath is a touchy subject. People in the civilized West today are less likely to think of God as ever getting angry. Many people prefer a kindly, sentimental, powerless, even toothless, grandfatherly, grey-haired god. Even Christians today seem to want to avoid the subject of the wrath of God, as though it is politically incorrect to mention the possibility that God ever gets angry.
One example of this anti-anger culture may be found in the controversy over the song, “In Christ Alone,” in which composers Stuart Townend and Keith Getty write these lyrics: “Till on that cross, as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied.” Some have wanted to change that final phrase in these lyrics to read, “the love of God was magnified.” But the original composers refused to allow this change, insisting upon their original version, lyrics which include both the short-term wrath of God and the great, enduring love of God, as seen in the following lyrics also from “In Christ Alone”:
My Comforter, my All in All,
here in the love of Christ I stand.
In Christ alone! who took on flesh
Fulness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones he came to save.
As you consider the choices you make everyday, including the choice to get angry at others or the alternative choice to forgive and have compassion on others, what tips the balance? What best describes your character: anger or compassion? When you’ve been hurt or mistreated, when you’ve gotten angry at someone, what causes you to relent, and offer the gift of compassion instead of returning anger for anger? In my view of humanity on planet earth today, here lies the turning point of many of our current problems: the willingness to gamble on compassion, especially when the wheel is turning deep within our own soul, and we are trying to decide where to place our life.
I believe the God of the universe gets angry. I’m not thrilled with the fearful reality of God’s wrath. But, when the wheel is turning, and I need to decide where to place my life, I’ll put my money and my life on the God of compassion, which as Psalm 30:5 tells us, yields better odds than anger, any night of the week.
For God’s anger lasts only a moment,but his favor lasts a lifetime.
Stock photo by AKB