The news this morning reported the death toll from the most recent attack in Baghdad has risen to 292 people. On July 2, ISIS targeted a Shia Muslim area during the Islamic month of Ramadan. An explosive-laden truck blew up outside a crowded shopping center.
This was just one headline among many others, all seeming to contain some kind of death, violence or other tragedy, not only in the Middle East but in my own backyard. It’s easy to feel like the world is falling apart. Maybe if you’re like me, it’s also easy to feel angry. “How long Lord?” my heart cries out. It’s hard for me to fathom the darkness and depravity that people are capable of. In fact, anger, even rage, has been a consistent emotion and response from people in all the news stories I read or the posts I scroll through on social media.
I recently read the account of Jonah in the Bible. After going through the ordeal with the whale, Jonah has finally been obedient to God and called a wicked nation, Nineveh, to repent and turn to the Lord. The people, in fact, do this and the Lord relents from bringing the planned destruction on them. Jonah became quite upset by this, because to him it seemed very wrong. (Jonah 4:1)
Jonah says, “Isn’t this what I said Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing 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.” To which God responds, “Is it right for you to be angry? “ (Jonah 4:2, 4)
Later Jonah goes outside the city to watch, maybe to see if the Lord will send calamity after all. God provides Jonah with a vine to give him shade from the heat. Then God causes the vine to wither and die and Jonah is left in the scorching heat, wishing he was dead and very angry. (Jonah 4:5-9)
God’s response to Jonah struck me:
“But the Lord said, ‘You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” (Jonah 4:10-11)
Modern-day Nineveh is located in Iraq, near the city of Mosul. Mosul is Iraq’s second largest city and the first major city in Iraq to be taken over by ISIS in 2014. It was the place where so many of our brothers and sisters were killed for their faith or had to flee for their lives. Controlled by ISIS, Nineveh, again it seems, is an area where many people don’t know their right hand from their left.
And I, so like Jonah, want to let my heart respond in anger and outrage at ISIS, at radical Islam, at many of the other issues facing our nation and our world. But God’s response to Jonah challenges me otherwise. Instead, I’m asked to call people to repentance. And not repentance to a God who will bring calamity, but repentance to a God who is gracious, compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. A love that I also don’t deserve. A love that saved me from the wickedness I would be just as capable of on my own. This is the gospel.
My persecuted family members continually challenge me by their example. They respond with love and forgiveness, even when it’s undeserved. When everything in us wants to respond in anger, and it seems justifiable to want destruction to fall on wicked people, we can be reminded of God’s gentle reprimand to Jonah. And we can trust that ultimately God is sovereign over it all.
Brooke Parks serves on the staff of VOM as the leader for women’s ministry and student outreach. She has worked in 16 different countries and is passionate about helping expand God’s kingdom throughout the world.