There is an aspect of God's love and forgiveness that is simply offensive to our natural sensibilities. While we are not offended by His love and forgiveness for us, we quickly become offended when forgiveness is extended to “the worst kind of sinner”. Think about it, what is the worst thing someone has done to you, or to someone you love? What if that person truly repented and cried out to God for forgiveness. Does that thought bring you comfort?
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 immediate response was to catch the first ship in the opposite direction. The Ninevites were a cruel and bloodthirsty people. They tortured, slaughtered, and enslaved those they conquered, including the Jewish people. After Jonah finally obeyed God (with a little encouragement) 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 4:1-3Jonah was not happy about this sudden turn of events. He wanted God to finally judge Nineveh and pour out His wrath. He wanted justice for all the blood they had shed. Have you ever wanted to see someone get what they deserved? I know I have. Although, I must admit, I'm not nearly as eager to get what I deserve.
Next, 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.
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 15:28-30There it is again, the scandal of forgiveness. It was a scandal that this father would so eagerly forgive a son who had lived so shamefully, 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 camp guard who was also one of the cruelest. The last time Corrie had laid eyes on this man was in the living hell called Ravensbrück. In the years that followed the war, this cruel man would eventually come to repentance and faith in Christ. When he approached Corrie and extended his hand, for a moment, she hesitated. Then she reached out and took his hand and 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 and something inside of Jonah wanted justice. Something inside of us demands justice. And yet, God is a God of mercy.
Lest we forget, all of these stories point to an even greater reality. We all were once prodigals and enemies of God. We do not deserve mercy, we deserve the just hand of God's wrath. Nevertheless, God had mercy on us, and forgave our sin debt at great cost to Himself. Christ bore our sins and drank the cup of God's wrath in our place, so that we might drink the cup of Communion and enjoy fellowship with God. Amazing love, How can it be, That You my King should die for me?
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