Counterfeit God – Jonah’s

By Dave Henning / August 7, 2023

“Jonah wants a God of his own making. . . .  When the real God — not Jonah’s counterfeit — keeps showing up, Jonah is thrown into fury or despair.  Jonah finds the real God to be an enigma because he cannot reconcile the mercy of God with his justice.”- Timothy Keller

“The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here.”- Matthew 12:41 (NIV)

In his Introduction (“Prodigal Prophet”) to The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God’s Mercy (2018), the late Timothy Keller (1950- 2023) observes that the book of Jonah seems to be about many things.  Thus, Jonah’s about:

  • race and nationalism – Jonah seems more concerned over his nation’s military security than over a city or spiritually lost people.
  • God’s call to mission -Jonah first flees from the call and later goes, but regrets it.
  • the struggles believers have to obey and trust in God.

However, Pastor Keller stresses, many readers dismiss this work because the text informs us that a ‘great fish’ swallowed Jonah.  Hence, Pastor Keller counters:

“If you accept the existence of God and the resurrection of Christ (a far greater miracle), then there is nothing particularly difficult about reading Jonah literally. . . .  The fish . . . is reported more as a simple fact of what happened.  So let’s not get distracted by the fish.”

In conclusion, Jonah questions how God can be both merciful and just.  But, the author states, the book of Jonah fails to answer that question.  Instead, Jonah serves as a chapter that drives Scripture’s overall plotline forward.  Therefore, we look ahead to God’s salvation plan through Jesus.  Who called Himself the ultimate Jonah.

Finally, Pastor Keller sees a parallel between Jonah and Jesu’s parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-24).  Because Jesus’ parable ends with a question from the father to his Pharisaical older son.  And the book of Jonah ends with a question to the Pharisaical prophet.

Today’s question: When do you desire a God of your own making, ala Jonah’s counterfeit God?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “A deliberate parody of God’s call”

About the author

Dave Henning

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