Justice, Mercy, Sin, Forgiveness, Jonah and the Cross


“Correct me, O Lord, but in justice; not in your anger….


“Correct me, O Lord, but in justice; not in your anger, lest you bring me to nothing.” Jeremiah 10:24 ESV

This is my cry today. At some level it is the cry of everyone, or should be the cry of everyone, because we are sinners. We are saved only by God’s grace.

Sometimes, like today for me, we are keenly aware of our sinfulness. Some days we aren’t.

Though I gave myself to God as my Lord and Savior many years ago, I still find myself climbing onto that throne in my heart and taking back control. I may be mindful and submissive in the morning. By evening, I have taken back that position I promised to God in the morning.

Like a bird caught in a snare, I find myself entangled by the old, sinful threads of my life that tangle easily around my feet. I gave them to God once for all time. Only I find myself going back to them, like a moth to a flame. Then, I must turn to God… once again… and again… and cede control again.

I am 61 years old. I have been a believer for 40 years. I know better.

Shouldn’t I be further along in the process of personal holiness and sanctification? Why am I so weak to deal with these things that have plagued me since I was young?

How many times will I fail? How many times will I repent? How many times will I fall? How many times will God forgive me?

I ask myself. I ask God.

Seventy seven times. This was the answer Peter received when he asked how many times he should forgive others.

This isn’t a mathematical formula, of course. Peter was serious when he asked if seven times was enough. “Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not just seven times, but seventy-seven times!…'” (Matt. 18:22)

It was more than Peter imagined.

God is like that.

God is bigger, God is greater, God is more loving then we imagine. He is more forgiving than we would be.

These thoughts give me hope as I sit in my disappointment and shame. I am not great. I know this. But my God is great. So, I have hope.

“God, correct me!” This is my heart today, as the echoes of condemnation ring in the back of my mind. “But not in your anger.”

I would not dare ask for justice. I would be afraid of getting justice, but it turns out that God, in His justice, provides for mercy.

He does not punish us in anger. God’s justice is redemptive. As Jonah recognized,

“you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” Jonah 4;2

Jonah spoke these words in bitter disappointment, ironically. He didn’t want to go to Nineveh and warn them of God’s judgment and impending disaster. He knew God would forgive them. He knew God would relent if they turned to God, but Jonah didn’t want God to withhold His judgment from the Ninevites.

Such is the difference between our miserly hearts and God’s heart.

Jonah’s attitude prompted him to run the other way when God called him to warn the Ninevites, but God would not let him run without consequences. Jonah, the reluctant prophet, went to Nineveh despite his desire not to go. He ungraciously delivered the message God gave him, and he rued God’s grace toward the Ninevites when they turned toward God and were spared.

We are often like Jonah in our attitudes toward others, and sometimes in our attitudes towards ourselves.

I am reminded today that the cross is the place where mercy and justice intersect. Jonah found that he could not outrun God, and we can’t outrun the cross. Though our desires, like Adam and Eve in the garden, is to hide, there is nowhere we can go that God is not already there. (Psalm 139)

“Instead, run to him. Run to him. Right now. If you do, you will find not a wrathful, angry, condemning God but a loving, merciful, smiling Father. His love might be coming for you right this very second. Don’t run away. You can’t anyway. Just surrender.

“Repent of your sin. Look to Jesus who died on the cross and rose from the dead and get under the shade of his love, which no worm or grave could ever destroy. He will cover you with his love forever.”

(See Jonah and the Justice of the Cross, at the Gospel Coalition, by Jared C. Wilson, June 24, 2021)


Postscript: Truth is stranger than fiction?

Michael Packard was swallowed by a humpback whale off the coast of Provincetown, and he lived to tell the story. (As reported June 11 2021, by the Cape Cod Times; and June 14, 2021, by NewsCenter Maine; and in an interview with Jimmy Kimmel June 17, 2021, as reported by NBC Boston)

It turns out this wasn’t the first time a man was swallowed by a whale off Provincetown. A man was swallowed by a Sperm whale off he Cape Verde Islands 150 years ago and lived to tell the story. Peleg Nye was the first mate of the schooner, George W. Lewis, operated by Hiram Holmes on November 16, 1864. Holmes recorded the encounter in his log book (as reported by the New England Historical Society):

“On Nov. 16, 1864, the Lewis got underway at 8 a.m. off the Isle of Sal. At 2 p.m., a lookout spotted a large sperm whale. ‘John Dyer raised a large lone sperm whale bound towards Bonivista,’ wrote Holmes….

“The seamen lowered two whaleboats into the water, Holmes in charge of one and Nye the other. The whale surfaced near Nye’s boat. Wrote Holmes, ‘The whale immediately began sounding, and ran out about 100 fathoms of line from the three hundred they had in the two tubs. Then Nye went forward and they began to take in the slack…Mr. Nye shot him.’

…. [When Nye went to finish off the unfortunate whale, T]he whale thrashed and hit the whaleboat with his lower jaw. That knocked Nye overboard, into the whale’s open jaws.

“The whale clamped his jaws shut onto Peleg Nye’s legs just below the knees and carried him well below the surface. Fortunately for Nye, his legs fit between the spaces that separated the whale’s teeth.

“Nye recalled holding his breath and pressing against the whale’s mouth. He finally took a breath and water filled his lungs. Then he passed out.

….

“Nye recalled holding his breath and pressing against the whale’s mouth. He finally took a breath and water filled his lungs. Then he passed out.

“’He was down under water so long that when he came up he was most gone,’ wrote Holmes in his logbook.'”

Nye recovered and even went back to whaling. He died 17 years later in old age. 

Thus, Packard wasn’t the first man to be swallowed by a whale, and neither was Nye. Edmund Gardner of Nantucket survived a similar incident in 1816!

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