God Is Not a Bully

This Monday School comes from a recent real school assignment. We were asked to give an example of how God’s character matches the tone and quality of his voice. This assignment came after a series of classes in which we learned how we image God, how he speaks to and transforms us; we dove deep into the history of the church and church traditions; our beliefs and spiritual formation practices were challenged and we explored a variety of ways to engage the Bible, cultivate a deeper awareness of God’s presence, and discussed the stages of faith.

The Exact Representation

It would have been easy to choose a story from the Gospels. The way Jesus interacts with anyone he meets shows us who God is, his character and his tone. Jesus told Philip “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9). The early apostles said the same.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. (Colossians 1:15)
He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature. (Hebrews 1:3)
Who, being in very nature God… (Philippians 2:6)

When we read about the life of Jesus in the Gospels we have a truer view of God. He is God with us, among us, within us, and for us.

Instead of a New Testament story, I chose a familiar story from the Old Testament. As a child, I learned it as Jonah and the whale. Whether you believe Jonah was literally swallowed by a big fish or not, there is something to learn.

A Program of Forgiveness

The story of Jonah is a beautiful example of the alignment between God’s character and tone of His voice. Even if you know the story, I encourage you to read it again considering who God is as Jesus shows him to be in the Gospels.

When asked to preach to the city of Ninevah, Jonah flees and we know what happens next. After he’s thrown up onto shore, the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” This time, Jonah went to Ninevah. When the Ninevites repented, this seemed very wrong to Jonah, and he became angry.

The Message translates Jonah’s reaction this way, “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! “So, God, if you won’t kill them, kill me! I’m better off dead!”

But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?” (Sidenote: God is leading Jonah into discovery.)

“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.” (Another sidenote: Jonah did not discover it.)

Apparently in his rageful state, Jonah found shade under a plant which God provided and was happy about the comfort it gave him. The next day the worm-chewed plant did not provide any shade and again Jonah was so miserable he wanted to die.

But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”

Nothing Can Separate Us

God does not speak to Jonah in a harsh tone. He doesn’t shame, lecture, or bully Jonah. He loves him and tells him the truth of His love for the Ninevites. 

How many times have we read a story and assumed a harsh tone from God? I know I have. Part of my journey is learning that God is NOT the great agitated father in the sky tolerating me. I’ve learned and wholeheartedly believe that he loves us and, with Paul, believe that nothing can separate us from the love of God. Not only does God love us – He delights in us.

I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39 NLT

Nothing can separate us! What does Paul mean when he writes this to the church at Rome? It means the same to us, here today. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. NOTHING!

Photo by Jordan Steranka on Unsplash

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