The Art and Science of God
The Wild Way of Holiness
But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?” 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.
The Lord God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”
Jonah Is Reproved
But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.” 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?” “
Before we close the book on Jonah, there is one important thing we need to acknowledge. The story of Jonah was not written to the people of Ninevah. In fact, it probably was not written to any of Israel’s neighbors either. This is a story that has been passed on to and preserved for God’s own people over the ages.
That is going to change the kind of takeaway we get from this story. In fact, if it were just written to those outside the faith, we could probably end the story (much like the story of the Prodigal Son) early. Jonah, chapter 4, helps us look back and re-view this whole story about how God uses mercy to work His will in our world, and the way that God’s mercy is sometimes harder to swallow than God’s wrath.
Ninevah miraculously repents, and instead of giving God praise or celebrating with them at the thousands of new believers that have entered God’s kingdom, Jonah, like the elder son in the Parable of the Prodigal, Jonah gets annoyed, frustrated, and even angry. You see LORD, this is why I ran away to Tarsus! I knew you would have mercy on them if I came here, and these people don’t deserve it! Jonah had wanted to see the fireworks of Judgment Day fall upon these people he considered enemies. Instead, God redeemed them. And Jonah was not happy.
Peter wrote to the early church, reminding them of the purpose of God’s work in our world and in us.
A Call to Holy Living
Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”1
Holiness. It is the stuff that flows out of those points and moments of grace in our lives. It is the fruit that God raises in the soil of our being. And it trips us up when we try to take the wheel and drive it ourselves.
Here is how it usually breaks down. We preach and teach forgiveness and grace as a holy mystery – nothing scientific or practical about God dealing with our past sin. Then we switch gears completely and say, from here on out, it is our responsibility to do the right thing and sanctification, or the growth in holiness and the dealing with sin in the present and in the future is taught as something sterile, practical, and behavioral.
Want to quit swearing for Jesus? Put a rubber band around your wrist and snap yourself every time you swear. Put money in a swear jar. Write down in a journal the times you have sinned and share that with an accountability group. These are some of the many ways we teach holiness in our life, and while they can be helpful, they all come straight from behavioral psychology. I have nothing against behavioral psychology, but it assumes that either 1.) God does not exist, or 2.) That God does not intervene in our world. It takes us right back to Deism again.
I believe there is both art and science in all of God’s work. That means that while there is mystery in the way God forgives us of our past sins – there is a bit of logic and science to it as well. I would bet that, if studies were done, there would be significant brain changes, blood pressure relief, and some degree of general physical healing when a person accepted God’s forgiveness – especially for the first time. I think there are some kinds of things we can expect every time, from every person when they take some of those important steps to being a Christian. We may not be able to systematize the whole thing, but I suspect there are at least as many similarities as differences.
I also believe that our growth in grace is not any more systematic than our initial acceptance of it. Some parts we can plan. Some aspects are formulaic. Do this and don’t do that. But I think the real power in growing as a disciple of Jesus, walking that wild path of holiness, comes from God Himself as He intervenes into our lives every day, using both the good and bad experiences we have, to show us more of Him and His love, and to transform us from the people we are, into the people He has created us to become. We all need to learn to pray, but we will all have different experiences that will teach us the value of prayer and the methods of doing it. We all need to learn to search in and trust God’s Word, but the way I read my Bible may differ from the way you read yours, and some of those differences are intended by God. We all need to love one another. How that looks may be as varied and unique as the number of people God is calling. We will all struggle with holiness in different ways, and God, through His artistic prowess, will weave our stories of victories and failures, into a work of art that will overflow with His grace, encourage, and even direct those around us and the generations that follow us.
We all, as God’s people, are much like Jonah, and God will use us, with us or in spite of us, to do the amazing work of bringing grace and holiness into our world.