The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah . . .

The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah . . .

The late Timothy Keller (1950-2023) wrote The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God’s Mercy (Viking) in 2018.  The founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, Tim Keller first notes that Jonah wanted a God of his own making.  So when the real God kept showing up, Jonah’s thrown into fury and despair.  As a result, the prodigal prophet concludes that there couldn’t be any good reasons for God’s command to go to Nineveh.  Because Jonah failed to see them.  And we face the same decision: Does God know best or do we?  Furthermore, we can avoid God when we adopt a very religious and moral stance.  A stance we feel obligates God to answer our prayers and bless us.

Above all, Pastor Keller states, all sin has a storm attached to it.  Certainly, not every difficulty we face results from our sin.  However, the author stresses, every difficulty can help reduce the power of sin over our hearts.  In addition, we find God’s mercy deep inside our storms.  Thus, the lack of mercy in our attitudes and actions toward others reveals the following problem.  That we’re strangers in our hearts to God’s saving grace and mercy.  For everyone gets their identity from something.  And these somethings become virtual gods — the deepest truths about who we are.  Consequently, we either live for the true God or we orbit our lives around some other god.  But under the power of God’s grace, our identity can change.

In all life-changing love there’s some type of substitutionary sacrifice involved.  Therefore, we can trust a God who substitutes Himself for us and suffers for us.  In fact, Pastor Keller underscores, the most important lessons we learn in life are the result of God’s severe mercies.  Like Jonah, the prodigal prophet, prayer at the bottom changes us.  Not simply being at the bottom.  Also, our merciful God patiently works with our flawed and clueless selves.  Jonah’s use of the Bible only brought him to the brink of despair.  But if we read and use the Bible rightly, that practice humbles, critiques, and encourages us with God’s love.  Yet, being changed through God’s grace always requires a long journey with successive stages.  And at the end we reach heart bedrock and with God’s grace.

In conclusion, Pastor Keller acknowledges, it’s quite natural to find ourselves confused or angry at God.  However, to get out of that condition we must embrace the gospel of salvation through faith in Christ alone.  So, the author asks, what’s your relationship to God’s Word, world and grace?  Most significantly, we receive, not achieve, our Christian identity.  Because anyone can be in the dark about grace, the main purpose of the book of Jonah involves getting us to understand grace.  A grace that is costly, not cheap.  God’s grace abolishes the fear of failure.  Hence, we become fearless rather than defiant.  The most fundamental thing about us?  Like the prodigal prophet, we’re sinners saved by grace.

In closing, Pastor Keller exhorts:

“If [the gospel of grace] can change Jonah, it can change anyone.  It can change you.”

About the author

Dave Henning

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