How The Book of Jonah Supports Universalism

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Jonah 3:10—4:11

  • Then the LORD said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?” – Jonah 4:10-11
  • One generation shall laud your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts. On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate. – Psalm 145:4-5
  • I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. – Philippians 1:23-24
  • Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ – Matthew 20:14-15

A Frustratingly Generous God

Today’s scripture readings are ripe with Christian Universalism, especially our passage from the Book of Jonah!

How?

God allowed Nineveh to live. God allowed the city of Nineveh to be saved from wrath!

…and?

Nineveh was the massive capital of the Assyrian empire conquerors of Judah and occupiers. The Assyrians were not Jewish.

Let that sink in for a moment… the Assyrians were not even Jewish.

They practiced Ashurism, an ancient polytheistic religion with Assur and Ishtar at the center. They did not even believe in YHWH, nor worship him. When Jonah came threatening wrath unless Nineveh turned from its “wicked ways”, there was no conversion, there was no proclamation of faith… they repented from evil, showed penance for their evil, and received mercy.

And this pissed Jonah off. A lot!

He threw the ancient equivalent of a modern hissy-fit:

Jonah: WTF, God?? I come all the way out here – with storms and giant fish and digestive juices and nearly death experiences… and you do nothing to these people?? Why?

Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.

Why do you suppose Jonah was so upset?

I think it’s because Jonah is just like the rest of us. We become possessive of our mercy. Oh, sure! Mercy is fine and dandy when it’s our own, or a loved one’s, but when people we don’t like very much are shown mercy or any other kind of favor it pisses us off!

Jesus Saves!

Hallelujah! Yes, he does… amen.

Jesus saves… everyone!

Halleluj… wait… wait, what do you mean “everyone”?

The Reward of Labor

Why does the idea of God loving even those who do not love God, bother us so much?

Well, for many believers, they do not love God because they want to, they love God because they believe they have to… or God’s gonna “mess” them up. This forced and coerced worship feels like labor to them. Something they have to do, instead of something they want to do. Plus, they think there’s an exclusive reward in it for them!

They “sweat” and “toil” in the vineyard all day.

They will be rewarded…

They will be rewarded…

And finally the “payday” comes…

… and everyone gets paid?!? Even those who just stood around barely working at the very last hour, they all get the same thing?

Those “heathen” Ninevites. Those “extremist” Muslims. Those “unbelieving” Jews. Those “cynical” atheists. ALL of them… receive the same reward.

And this afflicts our souls. Why? Because we do not have the right motivations. We love God out of fearful selfish motives, which in turn make us fearful and selfish about the “reward”! But if we were to love God out of gratitude and selfless motives, we would be grateful and selfless about the “reward”!

God is merciful to all of God’s children and creation, good and bad:

Jonah 4

11. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”

What’s in it for ME?

The hard truth about a relationship is this: if you’re in it strictly for your own sake, your own satisfaction, your own fulfillment and all of your partner’s or spouse’s concerns are secondary, then your relationship is a sham.

The same can be said about a relationship with God. If it’s all about you, your personal salvation, your personal fulfillment, then your relationship is a sham.

The sad reality for most of us.

The sad reality for most of us.

God: Go, my child, and work to spread the news of the Kingdom on Earth!

Me: What’s in it for me, Lord?

God:Huh? What do you mean, my child?

Me: What is in it for ME, Lord?

God: Well, nothing. You do it because it’s right.

Me: Yeah, right. I’ve got better things to do, Lord.

God: What more could you possibly want? I’ve defeated death and sin, and now you want more?

Me: Yup.

God: Like what??

Me: Like… you say that you love me the most. More than anybody.

God: Are you serious?

Me: Yup.

God: I never thought I would say this, but I am seriously re-thinking this whole Hell thing…

Sad isn’t it? The “what’s in it for me” sentiments of Jonah, are the secret sentiments of us all.

But the Kingdom isn’t about favoritism. It isn’t about profit or gain. And it isn’t about advantage.

It’s about equality. All receive the same portion of love and Grace from God. Is this not fair?

Matthew 20

13. But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?
14. Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you.
15. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
16. So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

To what end?

Many ask, “Then what’s the point of even trying? What’s the point of even living a good life?”

First of all, mercy doesn’t mean we “get off scot-free”. There will still be judgement for our sins. We will experience God’s corrective and restorative fire for deeds done while here in the body. Mercy means we are healed instead of destroyed. Just like Nineveh, we will change our ways, either in this life or the next. There will be repentance. Yet, there will not be eternal judgement and punishment. Through God’s mercy, there will be new life.

New life for you. New life for all of us. The Kingdom come.

The Kingdom on Earth, is the point. Manifesting God’s love and Grace for the sake of others who are convinced there is no hope. Sharing light in the midst of darkness. Weeping with those that have lost. Healing those that are sick. Celebrating with those that find love. Building up those that have fallen.

Never for your sake, but always for the sake of others… this is the point of our brief life on this Earth.

We’re in this together, my brothers and sisters. Children of God, siblings in Christ, forever and always. Amen.

 

Trig Bundgaard About Trig Bundgaard

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Romans 5
"18. Therefore just as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man's act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.
19. For just as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous."

Comments

  1. I wept through this entire article…….. thank you, Trig. :) Blessings
    Cynthia

  2. The Kingdom on Earth, is the point. Manifesting God’s love and Grace for the sake of others who are convinced there is no hope. Sharing light in the midst of darkness. Weeping with those that have lost. Healing those that are sick. Celebrating with those that find love. Building up those that have fallen.

    Exactly.

  3. This could be a good sermon resource next time the lectionary mentions Jonah 3-4 or the Matthew passage.

  4. I think you missed the scope of the book. When Jonah finally goes and does what God says he tells the Ninevites that they will be destroyed in 40 days if they do not repent (3:4). It’s only after they repent, mourn their sins, and “turned from their wicked way” that God had mercy on them (3:10). They had to turn from their sin before mercy came. It was not simply given. Yes, God did have mercy on a Gentile people, but that does not mean that everyone will be saved. If the Ninevites had chosen to reject God, they would have been destroyed. Your point about our attitudes toward mercy is very valid, and we should be looking to avoid Jonah’s attitude. However, the book itself does not prove universalism in any way.

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