“Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, ‘Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’ And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.” - (Jonah 3:4-5, 10)
A God who threatens to bring calamity? Is that our God? In my experience, yes it is, but to understand this threat of calamity as a necessary response from our loving and just God is not easy for us. The fact is that love is not always kisses and hugs and justice is a balance with consequences for both good and evil acts. Simply put, God, as Goodness, cannot allow evil to prevail.
So in the case of Nineveh our just God threatens to overthrow evil by bringing calamity upon the people. But… he didn’t have to! Believing God, or rather fearing Him, the people realised their evil ways, repented, and took it upon themselves to work with God and help to restore justice. “
They proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth
The people of Nineveh not only repented, turned back to God, but they also voluntarily performed acts of penance, by fasting and putting on sackcloth, to make up for the effects of the evil they had been doing. The acts of penance helped restore justice enough that God no longer needed to bring forth the calamity he had first threatened.
Sin causes effects the same as anything else in our world does, some of these effects we see and experience and some we don’t. When we recognise we have sinned we confess, repent and try to eliminate sin from our life. We don’t want to sin anymore, we want God to eliminate the evil in us. Feeling sorry and being forgiven is a wonderful gift of God through Jesus, but this turning from evil still leaves the effects of our specific sin. Effects in my soul and in the world around me. We can challenge and change our behaviour for the better through prayer and good works which in turn help restore the balance of justice. Of course if we choose not to cooperate in this way, God in His Goodness will cause the realignment anyway. He will restore justice, in whatever way necessary, whether we are ready for it or not.
But… he wants us to be ready. He wants to warn us and show us our sin and then realise the opportunities we have to help repair the damage our sin has caused. He does not want us to be “overthrown” with “calamity”, instead He wants us to work with Him through penance and team up with Him to help restore the balance of justice. To make amends. To heal our souls. To grow us. To strengthen us so we may not sin again. Basically, He’s saying “We can do this the easy way or the hard way”. The people of Nineveh got God’s warning and agreed to the “easy” way.
Now don’t get me wrong here, what I’m calling “the easy way”, is not at all easy. Sin is easy. Penance is hard. But recognising our sins and doing penance willingly means less of a struggle with God. Stubborn refusal of God’s power and authority does not change who He Is, it only causes us to experience more “calamity” while justice is being restored.
So, instead, let us work with God and, by doing so, avoid the unnecessary distress of unexpected trials. Let us expect, embrace and endure justice for the sake of our souls and the Kingdom of God.
Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation.
Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord,
and of your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
According to your steadfast love
for the sake of your goodness, O Lord!
Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way.
- (Psalm 25)