It came to my attention a while back that there are two men in the Bible who claimed to know God. They told God that they knew him. One is Jonah and the other is the last guy in the parable. The one that Jesus told about the master and his three servants (Matthew 25:14-30). Jonah said that he knew God is good, but Jonah did something very wrong in response to that knowledge. The last of the three servants said that he knew God is bad, and that servant did something very wrong in response.
In the parable, the master represents God and the servants are people in this world. The master’s rewarding of the first two slaves (that’s what they were) is quite extraordinary. Their job was to do as they were told, to slave for their master. A reward was not to be expected (see Luke 17:7-10). This master was a very good master, but the third slave didn’t see it that way:
Lord I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. And I was afraid, and went and hid your money in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.
In the ancient world, people generally became slaves because they had lost everything, either by being captured in war or by going broke and getting into debt. In short, it was slavery or death. All they had after becoming a slave was provided by their master. Now, some masters were good, others were bad. Some slaves recognised that their life had been spared and served as well as they could, others looked at everything with a hard stare. This third slave had the hard stare. He was right in thinking his labour deserved no reward. He was wrong in thinking that his particular master was bad. His master’s free, open and generous rewarding of the other two slaves shows how wrong the third slave was. By doing nothing, the third slave was not only stealing from his master, he was showing utter contempt for him. The slave had his life, a place to live, food and clothing all because of his master. The parallel between this story and the relationship between God and human beings is right there. God supplies freely all the good that we have. It might be little or much, but whatever it is, it comes freely from our creator; from the one who is good and who does good. Many people take it all, and then say they know that God is bad.
How about Jonah. He was told to go to Nineveh and tell them that they were doomed. In three days time, he was to tell them, they and their great city will be destroyed. The Assyrians were not nice people. Their brutality was well known — in fact they advertised. When they captured a neighbouring city (which they did often), many of the inhabitants were beheaded or left to die slowly while impaled on stakes.
Jonah’s own country had experienced the horrors of the Assyrian war machine. On the face of it, he might have been glad at the news that God’s judgment was to fall on them at last. But he knew God. So he ran. He was not afraid of Assyrians, he feared God’s grace. This is what Jonah said to God after Nineveh was spared:
Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled to Tarshish; for I know that you are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness. One who relents from doing harm.
Jonah knew God. He knew that he was merciful and gracious. How? Because God had been gracious to him. Jonah was a bad person, like all humans, but God had been gracious and had shown mercy to Jonah. Jonah knew that he had a good eternity to look forward to; he knew his wrong doing was forgiven. Knowing that God is like this, Jonah knew what God was planning.
You see, God did not need to send a warning if he had no intention of showing mercy. The hard message was a call to repentance, and Jonah knew it. He ran in the hope of preventing God’s mercy coming to those sinners of Nineveh, to people who were bad like he was bad. Jonah really knew God; he knew God is gracious and merciful but his response to those great truths was very bad. God had shown mercy to one who had been his enemy, that is, to Jonah. This is why Jesus tells Christians to love their enemies. It is because He first loved them while they were still his enemies.
Two people said that they knew God. One was right, the other was wrong, but they both were bad. The good news of Jesus Christ comes to bad people like us. Do we know God? We ought to see his goodness in Christ Jesus, admit our badness, and happily serve our Creator — even if it means taking good news to people we don’t like.