HOLDING ON TO SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS

Scripture Reading: Jonah 2:1-10

“Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love.” (Jonah 2:8)

Jonah’s statement about idolatry is certainly true. Idolatry is a grievous sin against God. But why did Jonah make this statement part of his prayer? Was he referring to his own idolatry? Was he speaking of the idolatry of the pagan sailors who prayed each one to his own god? Or did he have something else in mind?

If you know the whole story, you know how Jonah relapsed into anger over God granting mercy to the Ninevites. When God spared Nineveh, Jonah’s response is surprising — “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry” (4:1). Although Jonah had come a long way in his spiritual growth, he was still holding on to his self-righteousness. Jonah saw the literal idols that the pagans worshiped, but he did not see the more subtle idols in his own heart.

Jonah is like most of us. We have a hard time letting go of our self-righteous attitudes. Even in our repentance, we may look at others who seem more sinful than we are and criticize them. Deep in our hearts, our subtle criticisms are evidence of our desire to justify ourselves. In a strange way, when we find fault in others, we feel better about ourselves. Self-righteousness is always our default mode.

Jonah had been in deep rebellion against God and his rebellious attitude had not gone away yet, as we will see later in the story. He still felt superior to the Ninevites and he remained critical of them and others. A critical spirit is a sure sign of self-righteousness.

Lord God, be gracious to me. I know that I still harbor self-righteousness in my heart. I still try to justify myself by being critical of others. Grant me grace to face my own sin honestly and to repent of it.

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