For years, especially when I was a youth and children’s minister I heard the longing cry of a parent, whose adult child had rejected the faith, for God to hear and save that loved one. More than not as a pastor I hear this refrain as well, but in a wider range of circumstances. Sometimes it comes as an earnest desire for the salvation of a spouse. At other times it comes as longing for another relative. Too many times the expression of longing is masked in the earnest prayer request on a Wednesday night for God to spare someone who is sick or to bless the loved one as they struggle through the challenges of everyday life.
As a pastor, I have begun when I hear those masked prayer requests to immediately turn the attention to the person in question’s spiritual state. After all, the greatest prayer need that lost person has is not for healing or blessing, but that God do whatever it takes to break the prideful will of man into a repentant heart and surrendered will. Even so, as a pastor my concern also goes out to that member who brings up the request, and wonder what they must struggle with as they see their loved one languish in sin. One question I am sure such believers must have but perhaps are afraid to ask is, “God why won’t you save my loved one?” Though I cannot answer the why, I think God’s Word does offer counsel for the one who struggles with who God chooses to save.
Think with me about the life of Jonah. What made him so opposed to going to Nineveh in the first place. From what we read in 2 Kings 14 he had no problem prophesying to one of the Northern Kingdom’s leaders in Jeroboam II, so why would Nineveh be so bad? All we have to remember is that Jeroboam was one of Jonah’s people, a claim no one in Nineveh could make. For Jonah to so adamantly refuse to prophesy in Nineveh at God’s direct command in Jonah 1 displays Jonah’s real rebel heart. Could it be that the same is true for us? Could it be that the Lord leads us to confirm the unconverted nature of our heart by allowing us to refuse to evangelize others so that we can wallow in our own sorrow for lost loved ones?
Also consider the cry of Jonah once he is cast into the belly of the well and the testimony his entombment actually serves to make to the sovereign power of God. It is no accident that Jonah lands in the sea nearby to a fish that could swallow him whole and thus preserve his life. It is also by no accident that this fish chooses to keep him bound up in its digestive system for just long enough so that he would be a testament to the radical power of God. Jesus even mentions this sign of Jonah as the same one he would display with his entombment into the grave in Matthew 12. Even so, notice that it is not until Jonah himself makes clear this testimony in 2:9 that the fish finally offers him up onto the beach. Could it be that God perhaps is waiting just long enough to save our loved ones so that he could lead us towards knowing that we could trust him to save them? Even more could it be that God would deny to overwhelm our loved ones with His sovereign love so that he might lead us to experience the anguish of sorrow in order to know that we could trust Him to heal our broken hearts?
Note with me that in Jonah 3 God is a friend to the men and women of Nineveh even when Jonah is not. Also note that God is a friend to Jonah when Jonah would rather die. God sees to it that both Nineveh and Jonah receive the truth that it is His decision as to whom is saved. The Lord in eternity past, made it clear that all who would repent and turn to him would be saved. It is for this reason that he temporarily stayed his judgment of Assyria. That is why God again and again expresses his steadfast love by warning people of impending judgment. This is true of Jonah as well since it was God’s object lesson of a withered plant that was to warn Jonah not to question whom the Lord chose to save, but rather to celebrate God’s great compassion to save any at all. Perhaps as we consider our unsaved loved ones, we should not be angry with God over one whom he has not saved, but rather be led to celebration over his great compassion, especially even to save just one.