Truth be told, we are probably more like Jonah than we would like to admit. When God told Jonah to preach to the Ninevites, his first response was to catch the first ship in another direction. The Ninevites were a cruel, bloodthirsty people who dealt harshly with the Jewish people. Of course, when he finally obeyed God and warned Nineveh of pending judgement, the entire kingdom repented in sackcloth and ashes. This resulted in God's forgiveness of Nineveh, and Jonah's anger:
But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the LORD, “O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” - Jonah 4:1-3Or, consider the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-31). We all know the story. The younger son demanded his inheritance, which was a great insult by itself. To add insult to injury, he also squandered his inheritance on loose living.
After his money ran out and he came to his senses, he decided to go home. His heart was broken and contrite. He would not dare ask to be restored as a son. His only hope was to work as a hired hand and, in some way, make restitution for what he had done. But his father would have none of it. As soon as he saw his son from a distance, he ran to him and smothered him with kisses. This was very undignified behavior for a family patriarch. He immediately forgave his wayward child, restored him to full sonship and had a lavish celebration. All of this greatly displeased the elder brother.
The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!' - Luke 15:28-20There it is again, the scandal of forgiveness. It was a scandal that this father would so readily forgive his son; a son who had lived so wantonly and disgraced the family name.
Corrie ten Boom faced a similar dilemma as a WWII concentration camp survivor. Many years after her release, she was approached by a former concentration camp guard who was one of the cruelest. In the many years that passed, his eyes where opened, and he also had come to faith in Christ. He extended his hand to shake hers and, for a moment, Corrie hesitated. Then she reached out and took his hand; at that moment forgiveness flooded her heart.
She would later write about that incident saying, "For a long moment we grasped each other's hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God's love so intensely as I did then."
Once again, there it is, a scandal. How could anyone forgive a Nazi, a prodigal, or a Ninevite? To many, the very notion of doing so is absurd. That is certainly how Jonah must have felt. The Ninevites were every bit as cruel as the Nazis.
Bob Glenn of Redeemer Bible Church takes a look at the issue of forgiveness in a message called "The Outrageous Love of God". Glenn makes the point that we must understand the scandal of God's forgiveness to understand the greatness of God's forgiveness. You can listen at the link below.
The Outrageous Love of God