To what lengths does God extend Himself to reach the hardened heart? As we see in the book of Jonah, the God of unrelenting love doesn't just ignore the longstanding rebellion of an entire city. Nor does He settle for abrasively criticizing the Ninevites. Instead He cries out to them. He sends a message their way in hopes of inspiring awareness and repentance.
But the book of Jonah reveals more than God's heart for a hardened people. It shows us God's heart for a hardened prophet as well. We see Jonah's hard-heartedness right from the very beginning of the story. Though the word of the Lord came to Jonah, the prophet didn't not come along with the word! His first steps were in the opposite direction of God's call. And though the reader doesn't clearly understand the reasoning behind Jonah's rebel response until the end of the book, one thing is clear:
God doesn't give up on the hardened heart even if it's in-house.
So what does the unrelenting love of God do to reach the hardened prophet? For starters, He "sent out a great wind" to stir up a mighty tempest in the sea through which Jonah thought he could escape from God (Jonah 1:4, NKJV). Was it a vengeful move on God's part? No, just an attention-getting one. The fact that God then "provided a huge fish" (Jonah 1:17, NIV) lets us know that God is intervening out of concern and compassion, not vicious violence.
What else does God do to pursue Jonah? He answers the prophet's heart cry (Jonah 2:1) and speaks to the fish to deposit the bleached runaway on dry land. But even after all this and the effectiveness of the prophet's message to inspire repentance and reformation among the Ninevites, Jonah exhibits an even bolder hardness of heart:
This change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry. So he complained to the Lord about it: “Didn’t I say before I left home that You would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people." Jonah 4:1-2, NLT
Reminiscent of the older brother in Jesus' parable of the prodigal son, Jonah fumes over the forgiveness and grace of God for the repentant metropolis. Though this man of God had become insulated in elitism and ethnocentrism, he was not beyond the reach of divine love. God was still patient enough to reply to Jonah's complaint (4:4) and then provide a leafy plant for shade, a worm to eat it the next day, and a scorching wind to yet again grab hold of the prophet's attention (4:6-8).
As the prodigal father of Luke 15 ran out to both the runaway son and then later his older brother (Lk. 15:20, 28), our Creator God endlessly pursues even those who choose hardness though they know better. Lord, cause us to receive the unrelenting love of God for our own hardened hearts, and lead us to reflect it to the hardened around us!