Jonah 4:2 “I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm.”
There is one Person whose character is both the most loved and the most maligned in American culture today. It’s God the Father. While millions in this world worship and love Him, there are those who publicly denounce Him as evil and dangerous. In his 2006 book ‘The God Delusion’, Professor Richard Dawkins of Oxford University says this: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” Is Dawkins’s description of God’s character accurate?
First of all, one of the strongest evidences for Christianity’s truth is the concept of ‘character’. Dawkins, a committed evolutionist, can’t explain how Darwinian evolution, or any materialistic worldview, gave humans such unique immaterial character traits like honesty, kindness, anger or truthfulness. Only in the Bible can we find how human character came about (animals, as opposed to people, have instinctive nature). But we can also debunk Dawkins by highlighting God’s character. One of many examples is in the book of Jonah.
Most Americans regard the story of Jonah being swallowed by some kind of whale or big fish as fiction without ever examining the evidence. Which made sense up until 1847, since there was no evidence that Nineveh, the city Jonah was avoiding, even existed. You see, only the Old Testament gave us historical records for Nineveh and the Assyrian kings who ruled Nineveh, so until it was discovered there was no way to tell if Jonah was true. But when archaeologist Austen Layard unearthed Nineveh in 1847, everything changed. The Old Testament, including Jonah, was 100% validated with the records from Nineveh.
We even discovered why Jonah refused to obey God and go to Nineveh. He hated them because they were the most bloodthirsty, genocidal civilization on earth. How do we know? Read selections from the 10,000 tablet library of Assyrian king Assurbanipal, discovered when Nineveh was excavated: “I built a pillar against his city gate, and I covered the pillar with their skins. Some I walled up within the pillar; some I impaled upon the pillar on stakes… And I cut off the limbs of the officers. Many captives from among them I burned with fire… From some I cut off their noses, ears and fingers, of many I put out their eyes. I made 1 pillar of the living, and another of heads, and I bound their heads to posts round about the city.”
So if Dawkins is looking for someone to meet his description for evil character, it’s the Ninevites. They, not God, had one objective in mind: conquer other nations and then make a public spectacle of their slaughter in such grotesque ways as to instill terror in their adversaries. So, as our verse for this week illustrates, God’s character (gracious, loving, kind, slow to anger), is the opposite of both Dawkins and the Ninevites!
In addition to the discovery of Nineveh, in 2014 we witnessed further validation of the historical truth of Jonah: the destruction of Jonah’s tomb by ISIS in northern Iraq. ISIS targeted the site because they wanted to destroy any reminders of ancient Christianity and Judaism in Muslim occupied regions, even if they were connected to Islam (Jonah was a prophet also written about in the Koran and revered by Muslims).
So, how does the record of Jonah refute Dawkin’s description of God’s character? Let’s read what happens in Jonah 3:10-4:3, after Jonah warns the Ninevites: “God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said he would bring upon them, and He did not do it. But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry. So he prayed to the Lord, and said, ‘Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm. Therefore, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!”
Jonah, this highly revered prophet by the early Iraqi Christians, Jews and Muslims, is so angry that God would forgive the Ninevites for their atrocities that he would rather die than see them spared. But that’s not how God sees it: “Should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than 120,000 persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left?” (Jonah 4:11). In other words, “Jonah, if you don’t tell them My definition of right vs. wrong, how would they know?” So the real story behind the book of Jonah isn’t about someone being swallowed by a whale – it’s about the true character of our God: full of lovingkindness and willing to forgive the worst of sinners. Have you considered the evidence for God?
“The Evidence of Faith’s Substance”, Article #280 – January 28, 2018