October 5, 2023

What Jonah Missed: How to Stop Being Judgmental

Written by
  • print

Jonah is a unique prophet—he’s most known for his overarching failings. In their song about Jonah, VeggieTales (a children’s show with vegetables acting out Bible stories) describes him with these lyrics: “Jonah was a prophet (ooh-ooh), but he really never got it (sad but true). . . he did not get the point.” If you haven’t read the book of Jonah in the Bible, I encourage you to read it. We all, as sinners, need to ask ourselves: What is the point Jonah didn’t get?

Jonah, David, and God’s Grace

But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the Lord said, “Do you do well to be angry?” (Jonah 4:1–4)

How often are we like Jonah, rejecting the glory of God’s loving, gracious mercy and instead shaking our fist at him in anger over his sovereignty? Sexual sin comes from a heart that says, I want it my way, not God’s way—or maybe more accurately, God, how dare your way not be my way? Like Jonah, the single who habitually looks at porn may feel frustrated with God that others are married, and she is not. The married man committing adultery may blame God for not making his wife more loving. The one wrestling with same sex attraction or gender dysphoria is struggling against God’s design for marriage and gender. Have we ever wished even to be dead rather than trust in the ways of the Lord?

Jonah failed to understand that he, as the created one, has no right to decide the outpouring of the Creator’s grace and mercy upon those he made. The point Jonah missed due to his judgmental anger—his demand that God’s will bend to his own—is the beauty and glory of God’s grace for sinners. The sexual sinner who turns to “a gracious God and (One who is) merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (v. 2) finds deep wells of mercy that inspire praise.

The point Jonah missed due to his judgmental anger—his demand that God’s will bend to his own—is the beauty and glory of God’s grace for sinners.

What Jonah missed, David clung to after he was challenged by the prophet Nathan for committing adultery with Bathsheba and murdering her husband, Uriah (2 Sam. 11–12). In Psalm 51, David cries to the Lord for mercy and restoration—for grace. In that cry, we see his conviction of sin and his response to the great, undeserved salvation he received from the Lord:

Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. (Psalm 51:12–15)

Seeing Rightly

There’s a clear distinction between these two biblical characters. Jonah is miserable because he doesn’t understand God’s grace while David comes to a place of delight in the Lord despite his egregious sins. This contrast between Jonah and David presents two important questions.

  1. How do you see your sin?

He (Jesus) also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9–14)

Like the Pharisee, when we refuse to bring our sins to God for grace, we become judgmental of self and others. We find ourselves hyper-critical because we must fix ourselves and judge others in a way that affirms our false sense of self-correction. In this scenario, God is the captain picking players for his team, salvation is a competition to not be picked last, and being picked last means God wants you to feel the condemnation of knowing everyone else is better than you. This is prideful posturing, not repentance. It misses the true stain of sin and our total inability to fix ourselves.

  1. How do you see your salvation?

Here is my big spill-the-beans moment—and it’s a reality I wrestle with often. What we do with the concept of salvation will dictate whether there is any joy in our lives. Jonah and the Pharisee ultimately find misery because they value their performance and works above God’s gifts of mercy and grace. As they point the finger of judgment, hatred, and anger at others, three fingers point back at them with the same verdict.

The tax collector could only judge himself, not others, because he rightly saw his sin—causing him to treasure his salvation!

But the tax collector could only judge himself, not others, because he rightly saw his sin—causing him to treasure his salvation! By God’s grace, he had eyes to see his need, and it drove him to repentance. David, with the same humble awareness of his deep sin, found that same repentance and was irresistibly compelled to bring fellow sinners to worship God and share in the joy of his salvation.

Who Do You Want to Be?

Too many hide their sin in the darkness. They become like Jonah and the Pharisee, miserable complainers and self-deceivers, judgmental toward others and God, anxious about the day when their image of having it all together will collapse and everyone will despise them—the same way they despise themselves, deep down. Don’t let this be you, dear friend. Don’t deteriorate and suffer in darkness, afraid of stepping into the light. Instead, like David and the tax collector, see the great opportunity of repentance. Through humility and open confession, they found overflowing mercy, grace, peace, and joy. They also found love for God—displayed in glorious, pleasurable worship—and love for others displayed in honest confession of sin that stirred others to also look to God for salvation.

More resources you might like:

Keith Seary

Men's Ministry Staff

Keith Seary is on the Men’s Ministry staff at Harvest USA. Keith has a BA in biblical counseling from The Master’s University, which he uses at Harvest USA in facilitating biblical support groups, seminars, church equipping, and one-on-one discipleship. He is currently a member of Immanuel Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Bellmawr, New Jersey.

More from Keith Seary