I’ve had a lot of time to think following the day I watched in disbelief as the court dismissed the felony charge against Troy Robins in spite of having evidence in hand of his guilt. A lot of time – aside from the moments I pushed it away refusing to go there in my mind. Afterall, what’s the point? It’s undoable.
This past week I’ve flipped through my Bible aimlessly reading highlighted and underlined passages and tiny notes squeezed into the narrow margins of the thin pages. Searching . . . but not quite clear what I’ve been searching to find. Encouragement? Explanation? Maybe nothing more than a theological distraction. And as I did my biblical wandering, I encountered the book of Jonah, a minor prophet.
Jonah intrigues me. Maybe because he is the only prophet I can think of who fled from the command of God. God said, “Go to Nineveh”, and Jonah said (highly paraphrased), “No way. No how. Not going to do it! Absolutely not!”
Without the knowledge of the historical background we find it hard to understand Jonah’s absolute refusal to obey God’s directive. And the backstory makes all the difference in the world.
The Assyrians were the inhabitants of Nineveh. They were known for their abject cruelty to their enemies, and the Israelites were definitely counted among them. They flat out tortured their captives in front of the city walls so that the screams of terror were heard by the inhabitants of the city under siege. They staked the desecrated bodies before the walls so that the watchmen on the walls could see the fate that awaited them once the Assyrian army breached the city walls. The nation of Israel had no love or compassion for the Assyrians. You could safely say in fact, that the Israelites hated the Assyrians with good cause.
Jonah must have been flabbergasted when God called him and told him to go proclaim impending destruction should the inhabitants of Nineveh fail to repent. He was likely scared for his own life but also completely opposed to God treating the Assyrians with compassion. And so he ran and we all know what happened next.
Eventually, Jonah, the reluctant and defiant prophet entered the gates of the city of Nineveh where he then preached the message God gave him for the Assyrians. In forty days, Nineveh will be overthrown. That’s it. Short and sweet.
And low and behold the Assyrian King took heed of the warning, and decreed a fast throughout the land in repentance clothed in sackcloth and ashes for their evil and violent ways in hopes that the God of Abraham, would turn from His planned destruction and save their lives.
And, of course, God did that very thing.
“For My hand made all these things, Thus all these things came into being,” declares the LORD “But to this one I will look, To him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.” ~ Isaiah 66:2
And Jonah . . . he was livid!
He was so angry that he offered this prayer before the Lord:
“. . . I pray thee, O Lord, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.
Therefore now, O Lord, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.” ~ Jonah 4:2-3
And God replied, “. . . Doest thou well to be angry?”
Well, Jonah . . . he got a good mad on so to speak.
He left the city and sets up a booth so that he can watch to see what will become of Nineveh. And God provided a gourd to keep the hot sun off Jonah, but then causes a worm to eat the gourd.
And Jonah . . . he just got madder.
Have you ever had something bad happen only to have another bad thing happen directly thereafter and looked up to the sky and muttered, “Really? Seriously? Wasn’t it enough before and now this!” That’s exactly how Jonah responded when the worm destroyed the gourd.
And God, in His frustratingly perfect righteousness, again enquires of Jonah:
“. . . Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd? And he said, I do well to be angry, even unto death.”
I wish it were not so, but I can relate to Jonah’s anger – even unto death.
I get it.
God’s forgiveness feels like a free pass from accountability for the evil and cruelty the Assyrians were known for. Jonah knew God’s heart. Back in verse 2 Jonah said, “for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.” From Jonah’s all too human perspective, the very characteristic of God’s love and compassion for him is completely unpalatable when applied to his enemy.
And to add insult to injury, Jonah is taken to task.
“Then said the Lord, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night: And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?” ~ Jonah 4:10-11
God loved the evil, violent and cruel Assyrians because He created them. He laboured for them. He made them grow. And because they were helpless to discern between right and wrong. The Assyrians were God’s creation just as Jonah was.
And that’s the end of the book of Jonah.
It’s a bit of an odd place to end don’t you think?
We are never told that Jonah feels remorse over his lack of compassion for the Assyrian people. Maybe that’s because Jonah was never able to let go of his anger and indignation. Maybe in his humanity he found it utterly impossible to be thankful for the repentance of the Assyrians.
And oh my, . . . I can relate.
I am Jonah.
When I think about Troy Robins repenting and finding salvation I feel torn. From an eternal perspective, I can stomach spending eternity with him because I know. . . I know he would be a new creation. He would in no way be the same person who killed my daughters. . . But when I think about the time Troy Robins would spend here on earth between salvation and eternity, I feel sick.
Oh, so resentful! Because repentance results in God’s mercy.
Mercy – not getting what we deserve. The just punishment for his actions, attitudes and choices forsaken . . . vengeance gone . . . And from the perspective of this wounded mother’s heart . . . well, that’s just unacceptable.
It feels like a betrayal of the worst kind.
The courts gave him a free pass. It is unconscionable that God would do the same.
And like Jonah, I want to respond when God asks me, “Doest thou well to be angry, Janet?,
“I do well to be angry, even unto death.”
That’s what I want to say.
By golly, yes I have a right to be angry.
I have a right to be livid. To be enraged!
And yes, this request, “O Lord, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.“‘, it makes perfect sense to me. Not that I would take matters into my own hand. That’s just not right. But pray for death? That I could do.
Maybe I won’t always feel this way.
Maybe the Holy Spirit will change my heart.
But right now. . . right now, I have absolutely no desire to cooperate with Him in that endeavor.
I will not pretend to be more pious than I am. I know all to well that my attitude is wrong. However, that doesn’t change the way I feel.
I will gladly bow to those with a greater degree of holiness and accept any criticism my fellow saints wish to chastise me with. I won’t argue with the rebukes you, or God for that matter, cast my way.
I absolutely prefer to die before I am forced to face God’s mercy bestowed upon Troy Robins.
Come eternity. . . when I am made perfectly Holy and Christ-like. . . I will, without a doubt, embrace God’s mercy and loving kindness. . . Until that time, I don’t want to have to address the matter anymore than Jonah did.
I am not sitting around reveling in the idea of this man burning in Hell. Honestly, I think that’s a little extreme. I don’t wish Hell upon him. I just want him to pay the fair and just price for his actions.
If the Holy Spirit wants to work on my lack of compassion for this man, I invite Him to do so. I just want Him to do it behind the scenes of my heart.
Because just like Jonah. . . I don’t want to participate.
Fellow believers are always quick to remind me that God is a God of justice, that He will repay, that I can trust Him to avenge the great wrong done to me . . . but they would be wrong!
It’s just not true!
Not all the time anyway.
Isn’t that one of the hard truths the book of Jonah teaches to the wounded?
God’s grace is available to everyone.
And none of us are deserving.
None of us!
Should Troy Robins repent, his sin will be forgiven . . .
and forgotten . . .
just like mine. (That truth hasn’t escaped me).
And like the prophet Jonah, I don’t want to see the one who hurt me so deeply escape punishment.
I am filled to the brim with righteous indignation. . . but it ceases to be righteous when I would stoop so low as to withhold the gospel from another.
I know this.
So I’m thankful God hasn’t called me and sent me to witness to what amounts to my enemy.
And yet my humanity howls . . . just howls at the mere prospect of facing the same circumstances Jonah found himself in.
Twice I’ve sat helplessly by and watched as justice was denied all three of my daughters, my husband, myself.
I don’t want to wake up and go to sleep over and over for years to come knowing with absolute certainty that the hope of justice has been lost entirely.
So, don’t come tell me if Troy Robins gets saved! Don’t expect me to rejoice with the angels in heaven.
Right or wrong, I just don’t want to know.
Doest thou well to be angry, Janet?
I am Jonah.
I am no more Holy than he.
September 5, 2017 at 3:59 am
I am so sorry that this man- child as you have called him has escaped earthly justice again. There is often no justice on earth- you can find many saints who will agree with that. But you will find far fewer to agree with what you have written here-that there may well be no justice ( as we think of it) in eternity either. It sounds all well and good when we think about God’s great mercy applied theoretically to a heinous criminal but to think of that mercy applied to the one responsible for the death of OUR loved one- well, we would hardly be human if that sounded good or fair to us!
I will not chastise you nor remind you of what you already know too well- God’s ways are inscrutable. Trusting Him does not erase out humanity nor does it take away very real pain. If I search my own heart, I am Jonah too. We all are- even if we’d never speak it aloud.
The end of that book IS uncomfortable. But I suspect it’s much more representative of the human condition than we would like to admit. Thank you for never glossing over the hard places.
September 5, 2017 at 7:45 am
The pain is real. At least Troy Robbins isn’t rejoicing in heaven now. For him, earth has to be hell. Pray he lives a long life in this hell on earth and a short one in Heaven.
September 5, 2017 at 8:58 am
Nancy, I hear the hurt talking in your comment. I’m sorry that you have personal experience with pain such as this.
I think for this life to be hell on earth for Troy Robins he would have to accept responsibility for Bethany and Katie’s deaths. But he blames the other guy and of course the other guy blames him. Therefore, no one accepts responsibility.
Your suggestion for how I should pray reminds me of the Psalms. They are full of petitions that God would wipe out the Psalmist’s enemies. But no matter how hard I pray, Heaven will never be a short term occupancy for anyone.
September 5, 2017 at 9:09 am
Such a hard place. It’s a battle when our feelings are so strong they override the things we believe to be true. In many ways, when we are this outraged, when we don’t even want to let go, we are helpless to fight against it. We know, because we live it, that we can’t fix our hearts in our own strength. Only Jesus…so we wait and hold on. I say that because I’ve always believed it to be true, not because I’m experiencing it. I’ve been stuck in anger since my son died. People like to talk to me about Job, but I relate more to Jonah. I have a Jonah heart too.
I suspect the truth still influences us more than we can see.
You have my compassion. This has made me think a lot today. Thank you for being vulnerable.
September 5, 2017 at 10:56 am
Manuel Rodriguez killed my son. There..I’ve said his name…for the 1st time since I have been in the grief community. TY! Janet for this brutally honest exposé. I immediately go silent when I think of this person, which I rarely do. I visited this man in prison, and attempted to intervene in his deportation to Columbia, not because of anything within ‘me’. My only thought was: ‘what would my son do?’ I’ve taken it all to the foot of the Cross. (((HUGS)))
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September 5, 2017 at 11:18 am