Not There Yet

I’ve felt  like I’ve been on an emotional roller coaster lately…even more than usual, knowing that I’m called to do something and yet being unable and unwilling to do what God’s called me to do. So in the midst of my confusion and angst and hard-heartedness, I’ve also been running…trying to escape…kind of like Jonah in the Bible.

Except I’m not called to go save the Ninevites, but yet in a way I am…because Jonah was called to love, and just like me, he failed miserably. And so in a sense that’s exactly what I’m struggling with…the call to love someone impossible to love…someone in my life who has hurt a lot of people and has left a mess everywhere she’s gone. You know this type of person.

Sara Groves has a song called “Tornado” talking about this impossible person to love.

You live your life like a tornado/Destruction follows everywhere you go/And you have no plans to stop or slow

And it hurts when you hit at the hearts of the ones I love/When everything you touch is rubble and dust/And it gets so hard to know how to trust

This is Jonah’s story too. I’ve heard so many pastors preach sermons on Jonah, and Jonah isn’t usually portrayed as a person most people would want  to emulate. But I get Jonah…I understand him. God was calling him to do something that he could NOT and would not do.  In fact, he hopped on a boat and tried to go as far away as he could possibly get. Me too. I don’t want to be anywhere near this person right now.

Jonah didn’t want God to rescue the Ninevites, and I can understand that. The Ninevites were evil people…killing Jonah’s own people.  As far as Jonah was concerned, these people were monsters. And yet, God had called Jonah to be the messenger to try to get these people to repent, so that God wouldn’t wipe them off the face of the earth. Jonah struggled with God for 3 days in the nasty belly of a fish before he decided God is God and is the one in charge of salvation.

Jonah preaches, and the Ninevites repent, and God shows mercy and doesn’t rain down fire on their city. This act of salvation makes Jonah angry with God, even though, days before,  he had just confessed that God was sovereign.  He sulks and climbs the hill overlooking the city, just in case God would change his mind and wipe these people out anyway, and God in his mercy grows a plant for Jonah to shade him from the sun.

But then, God takes the plant away, and Jonah’s anger and despair come out again at this point, and Jonah asks God to kill him twice. His plant (God’s blessing) is more important than the people of Ninevah. I find myself there too. Some days excited that God is a God of forgiveness and salvation because this includes me…but other days, not so excited that He would choose to be merciful to this one person who has done so much damage to people I love.

Jonah says, 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!

And Jonah was right. God saved them. And I fear that God is going to merciful to my own enemy.  So, instead of praying for this person’s repentance, I want her to suffer in the way she’s made those around her suffer. I want her to reap some of what she’s sown. I want her to pay for what she’s done. Let’s face it, I just want her to be miserable.

We see that in Psalms…the imprecatory psalms…where the psalmist is asking God to smash his enemies to smithereens, not asking God to love them and save them.  In Psalms 55, the psalmist asks that his betrayers be hauled off to hell, and his betrayer happens to be a person he thought was his friend. And then in Psalm 58, he asks God to smash the teeth of his enemies.

But we tend to skip over those Psalms. We’re not comfortable going there…talking about the psalmist who is not loving and forgiving…because we’re not supposed to have those kind of emotions. We’re supposed to bottle them up and pretend that everything is fine.  

I certainly don’t remember any sermons being preached on the imprecatory Psalms, because Jesus says to love your enemies and pray for them which despitefully use you, right? And isn’t that what we tell our kids? And not only that, but What Would Jesus Do (WWJD)?  We have Jesus’ example on the cross, where He’s putting up with all kind of evil done to Him, and He still loves and forgives those who are doing it.

But I think God gives us those Psalms because those Psalms too are part of what we feel at times,  and I think Abba uses them to tell us that it’s all right to have emotions…even ugly ones at times….and that’s really where I am. There is anger and unforgivenness in my heart.

Recently, we were driving with the kids and just talking about stuff. I don’t even remember what we were talking about really, but Julia spoke up and said, “Sometimes I just get so angry on the inside.” My response: “Me too, baby.” And I could have gone on to say how we shouldn’t be angry, or the more spiritual answer of needing to give it over to God, but I didn’t.  Because I’m not there yet either. I’m still really mad.

And yet I realize when I’m like this…that I don’t really understand God’s grace…I don’t really get it.  I want His love and grace to wash over me but not over this person who has done so much damage to the people around her. But Jesus loves her just as much as He loves me. He died for her too. But the injustice of the situation just doesn’t seem fair. But then, who am I to determine what’s fair? All of a sudden, I’ve placed myself as one who deserves God’s grace, and I’ve become the “elder brother,” who is wallowing around in self-righteousness as well anger and unforgiveness.  Not pretty. (Tim Keller’s Prodigal God) 

In the chorus of “Tornado,” Sara Groves goes on to say

Every time I find healing you’re making a new mess/And I am learning the real meaning of forgiveness.

What if she never changes?  Never repents?  Never admits that she’s sorry for what’s she’s done?  And she might not…ever.  What do I do with that?  Forgive? 

I’m just not there yet. I sort of want to be. But then, at times. I just want to hold my anger and unforgiveness close. Sometimes, I think I like being angry.

I don’t know if forgiveness comes a little at a time like a wave that just gently washes over you, or if it’s like a huge wave in the ocean, where it just knocks you off your feet and it’s hard to catch your breath.  Or maybe it’s different each time. I have a feeling, in my case, it’s going to be the one where I can’t catch my breath, and that it’s going to have to happen again and again.

Jonah realized He just didn’t have the capacity  to love those unlovable people. Because the call to love is impossible…especially the call to love people who are destroying your own people. The call to REALLY love…love like Jesus…it truly is impossible. There is no amount of boot-strapping or striving to get to that point. 

But I think in realizing we cannot love like Jesus (no matter how many bracelets we wear that remind us what Jesus would do and that we should be able to do it too)…that that’s when Abba can step in and do it through me…through you.  And honestly, I don’t even know how that works. I just know it does because I’ve seen it before in my own life. It’s part of that grace thing.

And that’s where brokenness seems to come in…that’s where Jonah’s brokenness comes in…in writing his own book, he showed his willingness to reveal his unforgiveness and hatred before the world…he didn’t try to clean it up. He told his own messy story. 

The book of Jonah ends with God saying to Jonah that Jonah was more concerned with God’s blessing (the plant) than with the 120,000 people in the city of Ninevah.  God asks, “Should I not be concerned about that great city?” And that’s it. The book’s done. But it doesn’t really end there.

Why are we not shown Jonah’s response in the book? It is as if God aimed an arrow of loving rebuke at Jonah’s heart, set it a-fly, and suddenly Jonah vanishes, leaving US in its path.  The question is coming right at us, because you are Jonah and I am Jonah.  We are so enslaved to our idols that we don’t care about people who are Different, who live in the big cities, or who are just in our own families but very hard to love.  Are we, like Jonah, willing to change?  If we are, then we must look to the Ultimate Jonah, and to his sign, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. (Counterfeit Gods 154-155)

I was sitting outside the other day, and I was watching this bug go around in circles as fast as it could go…around and around and around, and I realize that’s where I’ve been lately…chasing my own tail…I can’t do this love thing. It’s impossible for me. But I know The One who it’s not impossible for. Because it’s really all about Him and His love, and letting go and realizing that Abba is taking care of every situation, even the most seemingly hopeless, infuriating situations.

 I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your Godcreated selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty.

So I’ve been reading these imprecatory Psalms, and this is the part that stands out from Psalm 55.

Haul my betrayers off to hell–let them experience the horror, let them feel every desolate detail of a damned life.

I call to God: God will help me.  At dusk, dawn, and noon I sigh deep sighs–he hears, he rescues. 

Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you: he will never let the righteous fall.  But you, O God, will bring down the wicked into the pit of corruption; bloodthirsty and deceitful men will not live out half their days.

But as for me, I trust in you.

“It is hard to make your adversaries real people unless you recognize yourself in them–in which case, if you don’t watch out, they cease to be adversaries.”–Augustine


2 Responses to “Not There Yet”

  1. July 28, 2010 at 8:05 am

    Kim, that was awesome! I loved that last quote from Augustine. I think we do know what happened with Jonah, he laid his faults wide open before us…same as David. They worked through their emotions and shared their story and now we all learn from it and see ourselves in them.

    Much like you are doing…

    Love you!

  2. July 31, 2010 at 4:38 pm

    That was good stuff Kim. I don’t think I’ve ever had to deal with that in a real way with another person because I haven’t had any real enemies. My biggest offender has been Andy, and God graciously let me screw up so badly that I just couldn’t hold any of Andy’s offenses against him.

    I think you beautifully laid out the book of Jonah for us in a way I’ve never heard. Thanks for sharing. When I think of you I will pray that you can love this unlovable person.

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