As a young Christian, I often felt a little stressed rather than inspired when I read Christian biographies about the heroes of faith. The stories of Hudson Taylor, Elisabeth Elliot, and other saints who never seemed to doubt God felt like a far cry from my own faith life, where I’d often struggle to believe in God’s goodness. They gave me the impression that it was a sacrilege to think poorly of God, much less be honest with Him about what I thought.
But I soon came to realise that the way these narratives portrayed these spiritual giants was not quite like the way Scripture did. In Scripture, God’s “greatest” were far from perfect. They had both remarkable faith and incredible flaws. They had their doubts about God, too, and often poured out their anger and disappointment to Him. Yet, rather than being offended, God often used these moments of raw authenticity to facilitate their deepest discipleship.
Jonah, for one, couldn’t understand how God could be so impartial with His mercy. He was furious that God forgave the Assyrians—one of Israel’s worst enemies—as soon as they repented (Jonah 3:10–4:1). His hatred for them caused him to perceive some of God’s most beautiful attributes—“gracious”, “merciful”, “slow to anger”, “abounding in steadfast love”, “relenting from disaster” (v. 2)—as flaws to blame for this “injustice”. His perspective was so warped that he’d rather fail at his mission and “die than live” (v. 3) to see his enemies receive mercy.
Amazingly, God did not chastise Jonah for his emotional outburst. Instead, with the very grace that Jonah had just disparaged, God transformed this moment of the prophet’s self-centredness into one of redemption. He helped Jonah process his rage by asking, “Is it right for you to be angry?” (v. 4). What are your assumptions here about me, about sin and mercy? Are they justified? God then gave Jonah space to digest His words, recognise his prejudices, and begin to see how they crippled him from fully living out his calling.
It is surprising that God would choose this prejudiced prophet for an “outreach” mission to the Gentiles. But in this puzzling decision lie the depths of God’s grace. The mission wasn’t just about rescuing the Assyrians. It was also about saving Jonah from his own self-righteousness, showing him that he, prophet of God, needed God’s mercy just as much as the Assyrians did.
The biblical stories of imperfect men and women remind us that it is ultimately God who is the true hero in any narrative. They portray His remarkable patience to work through our brokenness and how unconditionally He loves us despite the sin in our hearts. Regardless of how many years we’ve been Christians, we are never beyond needing His grace.
A mark of spiritual maturity may thus be how open we are to receiving His correction when He exposes our hidden prejudices, so that we can truly become worthy of the calling we have received: to become like Christ (Ephesians 4:1).
— Nelle Lim, Singapore
Questions for reflection
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