It has been a pleasure to meditate with you over “the sign of Jonah” (Matthew 12:39) as we have studied this wayward prophet in our series The Gospel According to Jonah. One of the things that has struck me in studying this book of the Minor Prophets is the way God’s grace in Jonah’s life so often has a dark character to it. I wonder – are you comfortable with the “dark grace” of God?
Flannery O’Connor (1925 – 64) was a novelist who excelled in lacing her stories with “dark grace.” In her short stories set in the American South, her characters are repeatedly and violently stopped in their tracks by a Divine encounter that radically transforms their lives. Nice Southern housewives, ne’er-do-well traveling salesmen, Pentecostal ministers, proud and haughty matriarchs, snotty-nosed children, and stressed husbands and wives all, are forced by drastic plot turns to encounter their own tepid lives. As “dark grace” breaks into their cushy and self-centered stories, each character is confronted, broken, and remade in the hands of a gift that they didn’t necessarily want. For example, in O’Connor’s well known “A Good Man is Hard To Find,” it is said of the main character who is attempting to evangelize a serial killer: “she would have been a good woman, if there had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.” O’Connor’s stories jar us, because the “dark grace” that her characters receive is rarely the grace that they want.
As we have seen in Jonah’s life, the grace he received from God is rarely the grace he wanted. God’s grace for Jonah has a dark glint. Jonah receives a call to Ninevah that he didn’t ask for, a great fish to provide transportation, as well as a sirocco wind, a plant, and a parasite. God’s grace comes to Jonah in ways our prophet doesn’t always appreciate, and yet God’s grace changes him.
So often, this is the story of God’s work in Scripture. His grace doesn’t come soft and cuddly, but dark as the ocean depths. His dark grace came to the patriarch Jacob in a midnight wrestling match, that left Jacob deformed with a broken hip, but with a new identity in Israel and a new hope (Genesis 32). God’s dark grace came to Joseph when he was betrayed and sold by his own brothers into slavery, imprisonment, and bondage, yet transformed him into the Vice President of Egypt (Genesis 50:20). The dark grace took visible form when God descended on Mount Sinai in terror and smoke and fire, yet the slaves of Egypt were transformed into Israel, the holy nation unto Jehovah (Exodus 19). Our God rides on the wings of the storm, flashing lightning, exulting in the lion’s hunt, and delighting in the Leviathan (Job 38 – 41). Of course, the fullest expression of this “dark grace” is when the Father sent His own Son to taste death on the cross, so that we might be transformed and live (John 3:16).
O’Connor noted that “grace changes us, and change is painful.” We don’t always like to change, especially when the grace and change comes unbidden. How is God’s grace at work in your life? Where is God’s “dark grace” exposing areas of your heart or your actions that bid you to be transformed? Where is the Spirit at work, applying the blood of Jesus, to break you and remake you into a new creation? Change is hard, but by God’s grace, we are being transformed from one degree of glory to the next (II Corinthians 3:18).
Praying with you for “dark grace” to be transformed like Jesus,