Big QuestionsWhy do bad things happen to good people?
Does God hear my prayers?
If God is all-powerful and all-good, why is there evil in the world?
Questions like these are common and legitimate. When I am wrestling with difficult questions like these, it serves me well to remember what God is like.
The prophet Jonah confessed several things about God in his short book in the Bible. They are found in 3 verses (1:9, 2:9 & 4:2) which I'll briefly breakdown here.
Confession 1:"(Jonah) answered, 'I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.'” Jonah 1:9, NIV
Jonah rather smugly announces to the crew of his charter that he is one of God's chosen ("Hebrew", Jew) people and that he worships the LORD God. That would refer to the one who freed the Jews from the superpower Egypt back in the day and was responsible for so many more miracles. So almighty God is in view here as well as a personal God (YHWH aka Jehovah). God is all-powerful. God is personal.
"the God of heaven"
For those who think about life and death, this is the trump card. He's the God of eternity. So when you die, this is who you get to meet personally. He doesn't just reside in heaven--he created it from nothing.
"who made the sea and the dry land."
This God of mine, well, he's the Creator. He created it all--sea and land. I imagine the "sea" part was particularly important to these sailors who were frightened for their lives at this point in the story.
Confession 2:"...I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.” (Jonah 2:9, NIV)
"Salvation comes from the LORD"
Salvation from what, you ask? From death, hell and the wrath of God. One day we'll die. When that day comes, we'll face our Creator. What will he say? Do? He'll confront us about sin and what we did with his Son, Jesus the Christ.
God is just because God is holy. Therefore, he must punish sin.
However, God is also love. And a loving God is merciful. He doesn't want us to receive his just wrath. He sent his one and only son, Jesus, to die on the cross to take our wrath for us. When we trust in him and his work on the cross, God sees his righteousness on us and forgives us. He sees us as if we'd never sinned. Amazing grace. God is holy and just. God is merciful. God forgives. God saves.
Confession 3:He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.
"gracious and compassionate"
God is full of grace and full of mercy. Justice is getting what you deserve (like that speeding ticket). Grace is getting what you don't deserve (a warning instead of a ticket). Mercy is not getting what you deserve (not getting the ticket you deserved).
God is full of grace and full of mercy. This starts at life and death. It runs throughout our lives as we learn to trust and obey him more and more. God is gracious and merciful.
"slow to anger"
God is just and must punish sin. But he is also patient. He often waits to allow us time to believe and turn to him for forgiveness and life. He doesn't owe us this--it's just his nature. God is patient with us.
"abounding in love."
God's not just loving. God IS love. And he is extravagantly generous with it. God is love.
"relents from sending calamity."
When we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9) He relents when we repent. God relents from judgment when we humble ourselves before him. God relents.
Jonah's confessions remind us a little of what God is like. When you have questions in life, remember who God is and it will go a long way toward helping you answer those questions.