Sunday, November 23, 2014

Romans (If God is for us, who can be against us?) vs. Jonah - Is there a conflict?

Chapter 8:31 of the Book of Romans (New International Version) offers one of the most comforting promises in all of Christianity:  "If God is for us, who can be against us?"  Can there be a greater promise found anywhere in the bible, short of John 3:16?

This can be exemplified by Jonah.  After initially defying God, Jonah repented, and God saved him.  Got was "for him," and not even a monstrous fish could be against him.  Johan had defied God because of two fears he had relating to carrying out God's commandment to him.  God then taught Jonah two lessons that echoes down to us over three millennia.

Most people understand that the first message of Jonah was simple and direct - if God commands you to do something, even if you find that thing frightening or even "wrong," do as God commands.  When considering Jonah, I find that most of us don't go farther than
"When God says, "go," you'd better go."

When God says "go," you'd better go ... 

Consider the second message of Jonah - perhaps an even more important message in light of the Great Promise found in Romans 8:31.  After repenting, Jonah did just as God commanded, preaching a powerful Jeremiad against the sinful city of Nineveh. He proclaimed God's destructive wrath was coming in 40 days.  But keep in mind that, while he did God's will, this message was not in his heart.  He had two fears buried deep in his heart that had kept him from eagerly embracing God's command.

One fear was for his own life - he and his people despised the city and King of Nineveh, and it wasn't unreasonable of Jonah to assume that the city and the king of Nineveh would return the favor.  In spades!

This fear, however, did not come to pass - Jonah was given free access to the city, unmolested by the people or King of that great city.  However, Jonah's second fear did come to pass.  His powerful message from the Lord was heard, by both the people and the king of Nineveh. They immediate took Jonah's message to heart, donned sackcloth, fasted and prayed to God to spare them.   In His mercy, God did spare them.

Not without pressure, Jonah finally had done just as God commanded.  But when his hated enemy, Nineveh, was spared, Jonah felt betrayed.  He'd done as God commanded, but what Jonah wanted in return was denied him - God, it appeared, hadn't been with him.   

And when you consider what Jonah had done for God, God's response may seem to fly in the face of the promise found in Romans 8:31 - "If God is for us, who can be against us?"  

Jonah had been there (eventually) for God, but in performing God's mission, Jonah's heart wasn't in it.  God desired Nineveh to repent and be saved, but Jonah's most heart-felt desire was to see his hated enemy smitten by Jonah's own all-powerful God, just as he'd preached.

Jonah's most heart-felt desire was to see his hated enemies smitten by Jonah's own all-powerful God

Though there might appear to be a conflict, there is not really one between the Grand Promise in Romans and God's seeming abandonment of Jonah after the preacher's mission had been accomplished. This lack of a real conflict, however, is true only if you understand that there is an unspoken subtext to that Great Promise. 

That subtext comes to light when you read the full story of Jonah, especially that short, powerful book's final chapter.

The Question isn't so much, "is God on our side?" as it is "are we on God's side?"

As I pointed out in my recent blog about Jonah, the question isn't so much "is God on our side?" as it is "are we on God's side?" 

The promise in Romans 8:31 is based on the subtext premise that, through giving our lives over to Christ, we leave the realm of the flesh and enter the realm of the spirit.  In that sense, we are on God's side, and when we are on God's side, God is indeed "for us," on our side.

Though saved, we are not immune to humanity's flaws and failures.  Like Jonah, having given ourselves over to God, we now think and expect that God is now on our side, and will - therefore - do and act on our desires, rather than on his plan.  

But that's got it all backwards.

God planned for Jonah to preach repentance to the Ninevites.  However, despite Jonah's heartfelt desire for God to smite his mortal enemies, God also planned for the Ninevites to have an honest opportunity to repent and be saved.  And when they did faithfully repent, He indeed spared them.  

Jonah was confused, frustrated, angry - and he felt so betrayed that he asked God to end his miserable life.  That's frustrated!  Jonah felt betrayed - when it counted (to Jonah), God wasn't on his side.  

Jonah felt betrayed - when it counted (to Jonah), God wasn't on his side. But in truth, it was Jonah who wasn't on God's side.

But in truth, it was Jonah who wasn't on God's side.  

Though Jonah preached God's doom on the city, the prophet not-so-secretly did NOT want Nineveh to actually hear his God-inspired words.  Jonah was just going through the motions.  He couldn't wait to climb into his ringside seat and watch "his God" destroy "his enemies."  When God showed mercy to Jonah's enemies, this proved to be a bitterly hard lesson for Jonah, perhaps even harder than being swallowed whole by a great fish.

And for those of us 21st Century Christians who revel in the Great Promise as spelled out in Romans 8:31, it is essential that we remain focused on that second vital lesson from Jonah.

To have God on our side, we must first make sure that we are on God's side. 

To have God on our side, we must first make sure that we are on God's side.  Then, God will be for us, and, indeed, who can be against us?

* John 3:16 - New International Version: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life"

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