There’s always been a bond between people and animals that is closer than our connection to any other part of creation. It began at the beginning. God didn’t ask Adam, “What is this rock’s name? This plant? This body of water?” But he did bring every beast of the field and every bird of the sky to Adam so that he could name them (Gen. 2:19).
I wasn’t wearing fig leaves for underwear, but I’d just as well have been. That day I felt more like Adam than I ever had before, or since. The forbidden fruit, far from digesting, sat like a rock on the bottom of my gut. The man who stood before me was my boss. I was in his office to come clean, to tell him what I’d done. I’d lied to him before, lied to his face. And I was afraid. O dear God, was I afraid. I was afraid of him. I was afraid of myself. I was afraid of the truth. I tell you, I was afraid of damn near everything. Most of all, I was afraid of how he would react. I soon found out. I told him what I’d done. How I’d lied. How I’d broken the commandment. How I’d listened to the serpent, plucked the fruit, and loved the taste of it so much that I’d gorged myself. I had prepared himself for his anger. I knew it was coming. And I deserved every bit of it. If he had wagged his finger in my face, shoved me out the door, and told me to get the hell out of there and never come back, I wouldn’t have been surprised. In fact, I think I would have been a little relieved. At least then, I would have convinced myself that I’d paid for a tiny bit of my sin by suffering such rejection.
His reaction was totally wrong. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. When I’d finished confessing, he didn’t start yelling. Out of his mouth came words like forgiveness, grace, Christ, clean slate. He was saying all the wrong things. This isn’t how bosses are supposed to speak. They’re supposed to hammer out words like deserve, punishment, consequences, disappointment. He didn’t. He shocked me by being gracious to me. He spoke as a father would to his son. And this son, who heard those paternal words of grace and absolution, would, to this day, relive that moment time and again as one of the most defining moments of his life. That day, instead of getting what I deserved, I received nothing but love.
I may have walked into that office wearing fig leaves, but I walked out clothed in the skin of the Lamb of God.
The story of Adam and Eve’s fall into sin doesn’t go the way it’s supposed to go, either. It’s all wrong. When God enters the garden that infamous day, he’s supposed to march in with an iron hand and a tongue pulled back, ready to lash. After all, he had given his children everything; they wanted for nothing. Yet these stupid, selfish people do what stupid, selfish people always do: they go and ruin it all. What they needed was punishment—swift, complete, merciless justice. They had it coming. That’s the way things were supposed to go.
But they don’t. In God’s first question to fallen humanity, he asks, “Where are you?” And in that question—merely one word in Hebrew—is packed a whole theology of who God is.
Where are you? God wasn’t seeking information; he knew where they were. He was fully aware of what they’d done. He was also fully aware of the fallout from this fall. Yet he asks, “Where are you?” Just as he will later ask murdering Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” or hating Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry?” or persecuting Saul, “Why do you persecute me?” In these questions is the answer. The answer is a confession, a repentance, an embrace of the forgiveness offered and bestowed by the God who seeks and saves the lost.
The story of Genesis 3 doesn’t go the way it’s supposed to, the way I expect it to, because God works contrary to my expectations. I expect wrath and he pours out mercy. I expect judgment and he speaks absolution. I expect the end and he gives me a new beginning.
The Lord does indeed go on to tell Adam and Eve that things will not be in this world as they were before. There will be pain in childbirth. There will be thorns and thistles and sweat on the brow. When I left my boss’s office that day, there were still pains in my life; I still bear the scars of the thorns and thistles. But I bear something better, too, as did our first parents. I bear a promise from the God who is love, that in love he has provided a Seed who crushed the head of the lying viper, a Seed who sucked up into his heel the death that I deserved, that he might pour into me the life that I don’t deserve.
That promise makes all the difference. It is the promise that God in Christ does not desire the death of a sinner, but that he turn from his evil way and live. It is the promise that God does not deal with us according to our sins, but is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
I hope one day that God asks me, “Chad, where are you?” I know what I’ll tell him, “Father, I am right here, in your Son, Jesus Christ. That’s where I am.”
Headhunters have a straightforward job. There’s a position to fill, usually in the corporate world, so they hunt down a candidate for that position. Of course, they’re searching for an employee with a top-notch resume, one who has the necessary experience and know-how. Headhunters don’t waste their time recruiting underachievers or amateurs. They’re matchmakers; they introduce just the right employee to just the right employer so that they’ll enjoy a healthy, thriving relationship.
And that’s why God would be, quite possibly, the world’s worst headhunter. Yes, often He does find people to work for Him who have extraordinary skills that they use for service in His kingdom. I have many friends and colleagues who are gifted in this way, and for them I thank God. But we cannot deny that the Lord also has a tendency to call people to do jobs for which they have little or no experience, not to mention few of the skills requisite for the task. In fact, some of them don’t want anything to do with the position. And, to make matters worse, when God strong-arms them into service anyway, much of the time they wind up making fools of themselves, making a mess of the work, or even telling God that He can take this job and shove it. It's as if sometimes the Lord asks Himself, “Now who would most people think would be a miserable candidate for this mission?” Then He goes headhunting precisely for that individual.
Case in point: Jonah. Calling this man to be a prophet makes about as much as sense as hiring an executioner to be the CEO of a hospital. To begin with, he doesn’t want the job, period. He lets his feet do the talking. When God says, “Go preach in Nineveh,” he boards a ship sailing away from Nineveh. Is he afraid of the people in Nineveh? No. Does he doubt his abilities as a preacher? No. Rather, those people he’s supposed to serve—they sicken him. Nothing would make him happier than for God to fry those fiends with fire and brimstone, to play the ole Sodom-and-Gomorrah card. They’re his people’s sworn enemies. They’re infamous as butchers. They make ISIS look tame. The problem is simply this: Jonah knows that if he preaches God’s word to them, they may actually repent and believe. And if they do that, God will do the very thing which angers Jonah most: He’ll forgive them. In His audacious, scandalous love, He’ll let them off scot-free. That Jonah can’t stomach. And if you remember the rest of Jonah’s story, that’s exactly what happened.
So why would the heavenly headhunter choose someone with such personal animosity towards his mission field? We could ask the same type question of any number of the Lord's other choices, many of whom have rather soiled resumes. Why would He choose Moses, a man with Egyptian blood on his hands, to lead one of the greatest act of redemption ever accomplished? Why would He let David, a renowned murderer and adulterer, remain on the throne of Israel, and even use his words of repentance in one of the most widely sung psalms in Christendom? Why would He fill Samson with His Spirit, a judge who's always getting caught with his pants down? Why appoint Peter as part of the apostolic foundation of the church, a man who publicly denied three times that he even knew Jesus? Why call Saul, a once blaspheming, murdering, Christian-hating Pharisee, to take the Good News throughout the Roman world? Why would the Lord of wisdom make such foolish choices?
Someone might say that the messenger doesn't matter but the message does. I disagree. In fact, the messengers do matter—they matter greatly. In fact, they are part of the word that God is speaking. And that word is that God is the God of the cross, the cross that is “foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God,” (1 Cor 1:18). God has chosen the foolish things and foolish people of the world to shame the wise. God has chosen the lowly things and lowly people of the world to shame the high and mighty. God has chosen the weak things and the weak, broken, soiled, despised people of the world to shame the powerful and self-righteous. He chose tax collectors and prostitutes and renegades and doubters to show the religious establishment that they didn't know their theological ass from a hole in the ground. He even chose a mule-headed prophet named Jonah to demonstrate that He can be as stubborn in love as people can be in judgement.
God's kingdom is a wild and wacky place. It's pregnant with seeming contradictions. A God who's a man. A king who's a servant. A priest who's a sacrifice. Shepherds who get fed to wolves. Men and women with scars proclaiming His healing. Pastors with skeletons in their closets revealing a bodiless tomb. Preachers with soiled resumes uttering words that wash us white in the blood of the Lamb.
All this seemingly contradictory work God does, however, not to be vague and sneaky but to show us that it's okay to be weak. It's okay to be broken. You don't have to fix yourself so you're good enough for God. Christ loves you in your brokenness. His light shines through the cracks in your soul. His cross is for you, where He was broken to heal you, to cleanse you, to make you better than okay. In Christ not just your resume, but your whole body and soul are as pure as snow.
Blessed are the soiled, for in Christ they are clean. Blessed are the weak, for in Christ they are strong. Blessed are the despised, for they leave the temple justified. Blessed are the Moseses, Davids, Samsons, Sauls, and Jonahs, for in Christ they are God’s chosen leaders, poets, warriors, apostles, and prophets.
Leave me alone. Please, just Leave. Me. Alone. Got it? Have you not poured enough grief into my life already? Just kill me and be done with it.
I didn’t sign up for this preaching gig. My name is Jonah, not Isaiah. He was the one all gung-ho with his “Send me! Send me!” attitude. Not me. I was perfectly happy back in the land of milk and honey. This swamp of ilk and money repulses me.
Nineveh. The very name makes me throw up in my mouth. A hovel of hate, that’s what this city is. Need I remind you that these pagans find sadistic joy in knifing open the bellies of pregnant women? Ripping the skin off their enemies and draping it over their walls? Beheading, mutilating, and impaling the bodies of their victims high on poles to make the world cower in fear? These people, why they’re not even people; they’re animals. Subhuman. The devil’s spawn. They play at evil. And, to top it all off, they’re the enemies of your own chosen people.
But as if none of that matters, as if somehow even these people are the objects of your care and compassion, you have the audacity to tell me to go preach to them. Cry out against this city, you say. Warn them that if they don’t repent they’ll be destroyed in forty days, you say. So of course I ran away. And of course, you chased me. Onto the sea, into the fish, out of the fish, you chased me. Until finally I walked through the streets of Nineveh and preached. I did your bidding.
I hoped like mad they’d spit in my face and laugh me all the way out of town. I wouldn’t have even cared if a mob of them had beat me to death in a back alley. But heavens no, I couldn’t be that lucky. They believed in you, the whole lot of them. From the lowest slave to the king himself, they just had to repent. And they went all out: fasting, wearing sackcloth, praying for mercy. They went so repentance-crazy that they wouldn’t even let their beasts eat or drink; made farm animals fast. My Lord, they even dressed their cows in sackcloth!
I’m watching this spectacle and thinking, “Oh, no. Dear God, don’t you dare…don’t you dare…don’t you….” Then you do. Of course you do. As if their bloody, prideful, despicable past means nothing; as if their gargantuan mountain of evil weighs not an ounce on the scales of justice; you let them off the hook. They repent and you relent. Just like that.
I saw it all coming, long before today, while I was still back in my hometown. I even told you so. That’s why I ran away—not because I was scared to preach, or frightened of these lowlifes, but to delay this evil day of mercy as long as possible. I just knew it. You and your grace. You and your compassion. You and your slowness to anger. You and your scandalous, damnable, exasperating love!
Where is justice in this, God? You can’t keep on letting evil men off scot-free. Know what you're like? You’re like a judge who, every time a criminal apologizes in court, takes off his robe, lays down his gavel, and walks up to the felon to hug him, kiss him, and ask him to come live with him and eat at his table. It’s beyond ludicrous. It’s shameful, downright embarrassing the way you let mercy triumph over judgment. Listen, when a man sins, he’s got to pay. It’s as simple as that. But you act as if someone has already paid for his crime, as if someone has already been executed in his stead. I simply cannot wrap my mind around it.
If you want to know why I’m so ticked off, well, there’s your answer. You’ve gone and did your God thing again. It’s not too late to change your mind, so I’m going to sit here and watch the city. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll come to your senses, decide there needs to be more fairness and justice in this world, and you’ll afflict them with plagues, or throw fire and brimstone on at least part of the city, or something, anything, that makes them realize how wrong they’ve been.
I tremble to think of what message this sends to the world. If you want people to get the impression that you are all love, that you’ll forgive their past no matter what, that you will accept and embrace even the most wicked person of earth, keep it up. Keep doing what you’ve done in Nineveh. Keep being that kind of God. But I warn you, that if you do, pretty soon everyone will assume that you love the world so much that you’ll stop at nothing to save it.