#3: Merciless Thoughts
This person is unworthy of my compassion.
We don’t have to spend much time reading the news before we begin to crave justice. The world is full of corruption, exploitation, and bloodshed. It makes the heart sick and the blood boil; we are impatient for God to make things right.
When the headlines are filled with school shootings, domestic violence, crimes against children, wars, and worse, it’s easy to fall into the trap of merciless thinking. We loudly clamor for retribution, drowning out the whispers that remind us of the mercy we ourselves received when we really deserved punishment.
I think that was Jonah’s problem.
Jonah probably spent his whole life in fear of the ruthless Assyrians. As a country, they had a reputation for terrorizing and slaughtering their enemies. So when God called Jonah to go to Nineveh ( the Assyrian capital) as a prophet, he wasn’t exactly chomping at the bit to obey. It was only after the Ninevites repented and were spared that Jonah revealed his reason for running from God’s calling:
“That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
Jonah knew the power of God’s Word: he wasn’t afraid of the bloodthirsty Assyrians, he was afraid that God would forgive them. The very thought had sent him running from God, and later made him despise his own life. Even after receiving forgiveness for his disobedience Jonah didn’t want God to forgive the Assyrians for theirs.
In her excellent study The Word of the Lord: Seeing Jesus in the Prophets, Nancy Guthrie analyzes Jonah’s attitude this way: “He would rather have died than live in a world in which he did not get to decide who is and who isn’t worthy of God’s mercy” (52).
Are you tempted to think this way? Do you ever become frustrated because you believe that God is moving too slowly in bringing about justice? Do you really think that you are a better judge that he is? That your judgments are superior to his?
Merciless thoughts are prideful thoughts with a large dose of anger mixed in. Whether our desire for justice is on the behalf of ourselves or others, our longing for God to make things right becomes sinful when we sit in judgment over other people, withholding the mercy, compassion, and forgiveness that God has so graciously extended to us. This is what it means to be a Christian: to be Christ-like.
“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”
Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
As we become more like Christ, we should be enacting justice, but not at the expense of loving kindness and walking in humility before God (Micah 6:8).
All of the other sinners in this world deserve God’s mercy, compassion, and forgiveness just as much as you do (which is to say, not at all).
Guthrie’s reflection at the end of her chapter on Jonah sum up my thoughts perfectly: “Lord, make me less like Jonah and more like Jesus. My heart is full of my own prejudices and preferences. Give me a heart to love even my enemies as you do” (56).
How do you allow God to transform merciless thoughts into compassionate ones?