Grace is a beautiful thing. Grace means we are unconditionally loved and accepted, no matter what bad things we might have done in our life. We can receive grace from God, and we can also give grace to (and receive grace from) other people.
Even though grace is awesome, and I believe we need it to be healthy human beings, sometimes we resist giving and receiving grace. Often this resistance to grace has to do with our pride. We think we are doing a pretty good job on our own, so we don’t need grace. Or we might compare ourselves to someone else who is screwing up worse than us, and scoff, thinking they don’t deserve grace.
There’s a great story in the Bible about resisting grace. It focuses on the life of an Old Testament prophet named Jonah. If you grew up around the church, you probably heard the story of Jonah and the whale when you were little. When I first heard the story, I thought it was a story about Jonah making a bad choice to disobey God. But the story isn’t so much about Jonah making a bad choice as it is about God’s grace—and our tendency to resist grace.
The first three chapters of Jonah are probably what you heard in Sunday School growing up. God tells Jonah to go and preach to the people of Nineveh, but Jonah doesn’t want to go and catches a boat going the other way instead. There’s a huge storm, and Jonah gets thrown overboard. God sends a big fish to swallow Jonah and cough him back up on to shore. Then God tells Jonah AGAIN to go to Nineveh, and this time he goes. When he starts to preach, an amazing thing happens—the entire city repents of their violent ways. Even the king takes off his royal robes, covers himself in sackcloth, and sits down in the dust. God sees that the people of the city have repented, and he suspends his judgment. God gives the people of Nineveh grace.
Here’s where the story gets really interesting. You would think that Jonah would be happy, because he did his prophet thing and the people responded. But Jonah isn’t happy. In fact, he’s pissed off. And here you get a deeper look into the condition of Jonah’s heart.
But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “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. Now Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live” (Jonah 4:1-3).
In this final part of the story, we see that the story of Jonah is really about resisting grace. Jonah disliked the people of Nineveh so much, he didn’t want them to receive God’s grace. He thought they were beyond grace. He wanted them to be destroyed. But that isn’t how God works.
In the final conclusion to this story, God grows a plant to shelter Jonah from the scorching sun, but then sends a worm to destroy the plant the next day. As he sits in the hot sun, Jonah becomes faint of heart, and wishes he were dead. Here’s how God responds: “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).
The final lesson is that God is about grace. He loves all people, even those who are difficult for us to love. And he gives grace abundantly, even to those who don’t deserve it. To the extent that we resist giving and receiving grace, like Jonah, we are moving in the opposite direction of God.
Discussion: In what area of your life are you resisting receiving grace from God? To what individuals or groups are you resisting giving grace? What is one step you could take toward laying down your resistance to grace?