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Revisiting Jonah: God wants the whole world to be saved

NOTE: This column was originally published in Saworship.com.

By Richard Zowie

At Pensacola Christian College I met many different people, some so out there they made even me look normal. Despite PCC being conservative in its outlook and somewhat independent Baptist in its theology, many students at PCC came from various denominations. A few students had very odd theological viewpoints.

Here’s one example: I heard of students who believed the blood Jesus shed on the cross was sufficient only to pay for the sins of those who become Christians. In other words, Jesus didn’t die for those who reject Him, only for those who accept Him. Furthermore, God selects whom He will save, gives them irresistible grace while those He chooses not to save have no choice but to reject him (or what I like to call irresistible disgrace).

How do I say this nicely but with the utmost respect…hmm, let’s see…


Forgive me for sounding close-minded and dogmatic, but I find this belief to be abhorrent. It would take a separate column to cite scripture (such as the obvious one, John 3:16) showing that God loved the entire world and that Jesus’ death was for everybody—whether or not they accept Him. When God and Jesus collectively decided unfathomable eons ago that Jesus would die for our sins, it wasn’t for a select, elite group of believers. It was for everybody.

Here’s a quick analogy: let’s say a prisoner decides to go on a hunger strike. He tells the warden he won’t eat, and the warden knows this prisoner well enough to conclude he won’t back down. Despite this, the warden still arranges meals for the prisoner. This could be for two reasons. One, the warden hopes the prisoner might somehow change his mind or, two, the warden wants the prisoner to realize his refusal to eat is his choice and not to be blamed on the prison’s denial of food for him—an ostensible violation of the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

With that, wouldn’t it be difficult for God to condemn someone to a Christless eternity when He never gave them the chance or choice to accept Jesus? If Jesus’ blood wasn’t available to the lost, then they couldn’t be justly condemned when not given a proper choice. To me, it is tantamount to writing a software program where the computer will always answer “No” when asked if it wants to become a Christian, and then holding them culpable for their “response”.

What I find especially dangerous about this crazy theological notion is that it makes Christianity seem like a country club religion to outsiders. Why entertain any ideas of taking a path to heaven when it’s only for a select, elite few? Christianity is anything but that and is open for anyone: rich, poor, morally upright, depraved criminals, New Yorkers, New Zealanders, the cultured, the primitive. Absolutely anybody. The song “Whosoever will” doesn’t contain the line “Some restrictions apply” but means what it says—if you want Jesus in your life, He’ll gladly take you.

Previously, I explored the life of Jonah, and I’d like to do so yet again. The Book of Jonah, if indeed an autobiographical work, is perhaps the bravest book in the Bible; it’s a confessional piece written by a disgruntled, possibly prejudiced man. God called Jonah to preach to the Ninevites, a cruel nation hated by the Israelites.

We know from the book that Jonah refused and ran, only to be brought back on course by God using a giant fish. Jonah finally preached and the Ninevites, much to his chagrin, repented in stark, collective humility.

Call Jonah the most ungrateful soul winner. His sour attitude is even worse than that of a person who, after winning a $300 million lottery, grouses about how much in taxes they’ll have to pay.

Jonah 4 tells us that this grumpy prophet, whose name in Hebrew translates somewhat ironically as “dove”, became angry with God for sparing the Ninevites. The prophet left Nineveh, ventured out to its eastern realm and sat down under a shelter, vainly hoping he could witness the city’s destruction.

As Jonah watched, God prepared a gourd to provide further shelter for him. Verse six tells us the prophet was “exceeding glad” for the shelter. But then God brought about a worm to “smite” the gourd, causing it to wither away.

Jonah suffered the ultimate pity party. He hoped God would take his life so he didn’t have to witness the sparing of this detested nation. If it wasn’t bad enough God was sparing the destruction of more than 100,000 people, Jonah now felt the scorching sun beating down upon him and taking away the comfort the gourd had provided. When Jonah told God of how angry he was that the gourd had died, here’s what God said to him in verses 10-11:

“Then said the LORD, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not labored, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night:

“and should not I spare Nin’eveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?”

The last two verses represent one of the key themes of Jonah. God essentially said this: “Jonah, how could you possibly get so upset over the destruction of a inanimate plant but yet be so calloused and hope that I would destroy more than 120,000 people? These are people who were so wicked that they had virtually no way anymore to distinguish right from wrong.”

And so we have the vital Gospel message: God cares for the entire world and NOT just for the select few. This is why God lays it on the hearts of some Christians to serve in the mission field, others to give comfort to the homeless and others to visit jails and tell inmates of God’s power. This is also why God lays it on the hearts of Christians to embark on seemingly suicide missions to witness to primitive cannibals or in parts of the world where espousal of Christianity is a capital offense.

Although many will reject Christ’s sacrifice, God wants everybody to someday dwell in His eternal kingdom; Jesus’ blood was shed for everybody. This is a message Jonah learned the hard way, and I hope it’s something that student at college now understands.

If you need prayer or guidance, feel free to email me at mytwoshekels@gmail.com or leave a comment on this blog posting.

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