Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Surprised By Grace by Tullian Tchividjian
In this book, Tullian recounts the story of the prophet Jonah, a story that most churchgoers have been taught since their youth. But they have not been taught this story. They have not been taught the grace of God in the book of Jonah. Most of us have not been taught the gospel that is taught in Jonah. Tullian says, "Jonah's story is God's message of sin and grace, of desperation and deliverance. It's a message that reveals how quick we all are to run from God and how quick God is to run after us. It's a message revealing that God's capacity to forgive is greater than our capacity to sin; while our sin reaches far, God's grace reaches farther. It's a message revealing the radical contrast between the sinful heart of mankind and the gracious heart of mankind's Creator" (143-4).
The story of Jonah is of course the story of a prophet of God that didn't want to go pronounce judgment upon his enemies because he knew that God might be merciful to them. He wanted them to be punished. He wanted them to suffer at the hand of his God. He did not want God to treat them like He treated His people, the Israelites. And so Jonah runs from God. Eventually through a great storm and a great fish, we see God aggressively running to get Jonah's attention. He does eventually go to pronounce judgment upon the city of Nineveh, but we see that his heart was never into it. When they repent, Jonah gets depressed. Tullian makes the point that "there's such a thing as running from God in our obedience as well as in our disobedience. Even when Jonah obeys God's call, it becomes clear that his heart's not in it" (122).
He does a great job of bridging the gap between an old-time story that most people have heard and what it means for us today. He showed me that I am not much different from this guy. I run from God. I want to be self-justified. He shows that the gospel message is just as important for the person who believes in God as the person who doesn't. God sought out Nineveh, but He also sought after Jonah. Maybe the book of Jonah is more about God being the rescuer than it is about a fish and a great city repenting. Maybe the book of Jonah is more about God going after His prophet than it is about God being merciful to a great city repenting. Maybe the story of Jonah is about you and me who know the gospel needing to be reminded of the gospel again and again. Maybe the story of Jonah is to show how patient God is with us!
"God never gives up on you. There's no one whose patience and forebearance toward you will ever be greater or longer-lasting than God's. Your wife or husband won't be this patient with you--your kids won't, your friends won't, your coworkers won't, your pastor won't. They'll all fail you at some point. You'll feel dehumanized, cheapened, discouraged, depressed, or radically disappointed by everyone and everything in this world. But not by God" (138-9).
In the end, I loved this book so much because it kept telling me the gospel on every page. It kept telling me about my sin and idolatry and the patience, grace, mercy of God. And in the end, it points me to Jesus once again. Jesus of course in the NT compares Himself with Jonah. He tells the people that the only sign He will give them will be the sign of Jonah (Matt 12:40) and that something greater than Jonah was in their midst (Matt 12:41). Tullian says that Jesus "went on this mission because he wanted to--not because he had to . . . Jonah is all about self-protection; this new messenger is all about joyful self-sacrifice. No wonder Jesus say that he is 'greater than Jonah'! Jesus is the greater-than-Jonah who succeeded where Jonah failed. Yes, Jesus is all over this story of Jonah" (181).
The only thing in the book that I did not really get was his continual commitment to the artistic dramatizations of Jonah over the years. It seemed that at every move of the story, he would describe another drawing or painting of Jonah from over the years. I guess what this proves is that I am not as well refined as I think I might be. There is a part in the middle of the book that he shows many of the artistic drawings he had made reference to, but I still did not get it. I wonder if it would have helped if the pictures would have been on the page that he was referencing them instead of all together in the middle of the book. In the end, this is a very minor issue and does not change the content of his message.
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Posted by Thad Bergmeier at 9:14 AM