“Yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O Lord, my God. When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the Lord; and my prayer went up to You, into Your holy temple.” Jonah 2:6-7 NKJV
You probably know the story of Jonah and the big fish. It’s standard fare for Sunday school lessons and Bible storybooks. But there’s a danger in knowing a story so well. If we’re not careful, we, like Jonah himself, can miss what God’s trying to say.
So, let’s start with a quick refresh of the story: God called Jonah to leave his comfortable home in Israel and go preach to the lost, hurting, and unlovable in the city of Nineveh (Jnh 1:2). Matthew 28:16-17 reminds us that Jesus has given us the same call today, though our mission field is much larger than a single city. Jonah wanted no part of his assignment, so he hopped on the first boat heading to the farthest port in the opposite direction, even hiding himself below deck—as if that could keep God at a distance.
Now, this is the part where our Sunday School flannel graphs and the real story begin to part ways. Contrary to what many well-meaning people may have told you, Jonah wasn’t afraid of the Ninevites; that’s not why he ran away. Instead, Jonah struggled with the overwhelming truth that God’s love is big enough to reach the whole world and cover over even the gravest of sins. The Ninevites were enemies of God’s people—and Jonah wanted no part in their salvation.
If we’re being honest with ourselves, isn’t this something that, behind closed doors and in the darkest places in our hearts, we all struggle with from time to time? God, You want me to show mercy to him? To her? we ask. We hold grudges for way too long. We judge strangers without knowing their stories. We make comments about those to whom we feel superior. God’s unconditional mercy and love isn’t hard for most of us to grasp—until we start thinking about offering it to those who’ve hurt us.
For Jonah, the next stage of his journey took place in the belly of a large fish, where God finally got his attention long enough to remind him that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). You see, no one is beyond God’s mercy or love. He holds His arms open wide for even the vilest of sinners—even for folks like Jonah, you, and me who sometimes have trouble extending that same mercy to other people. But that’s the good news of Jesus Christ—it really is big enough.