Our readings this Sunday will cover a section of the book of Jonah. This book, though small, deals with a major concept of God, namely that He is “gracious… and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” We find this concept woven throughout scripture and at the heart of the gospel itself. It explains not only the reason we can enjoy eternal life but also why we suffer through our present one. Let me explain.
Peter, in his second letter, writes, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise… but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” Peter is answering a difficult almost universal question: why does God allow evil to remain in the world? The answer is simple: His goodness prevents it (for now). You see, God loves everyone, including those perpetrating evil. The difficulty is that to most people, this seems unthinkable. Until you realize and notice the aim of this answer. Peter says that God is patient toward you.
You see, you are part of the problem. I am part of the problem. The problem of why evil remains in the world is because we remain in the world. And the moment God ends all of that is the moment repentance ends. He is giving you and me, and everyone else, time. That time is an expression of God’s goodness and love.
He is a “gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”
Jonah knows this scripture very well, and in our readings this Sunday we will see that this scripture is rubbing him the wrong way. He is disgusted by it. We ought not to be disgusted by it, any more than Jonah ought not to have been. And maybe the key to embracing this concept of God’s goodness is the reminder that in some small part (and maybe greater part than we really know), much of this world’s evil is me (at least the evil I find encountering). And even if it isn’t, we ought to know and remember that at one time we had no interest in doing good or loving God and neighbor. Would we have wanted a bit more time to repent?