An excerpt from The Peacegiver, published by Deseret Book.
Rick found himself with his grandfather on a hillside over- looking a vast valley plain. Behind him rose foothills that developed into a substantial mountain range a few miles in the distance. Below him spread a great city that rose from the banks of a large river some fifteen miles away and spread from there in all directions. The congested center area of the city, in and of itself at least ten miles square and surrounded by a large wall, was filled with whitish homes and buildings that appeared to be stacked nearly on top of each other, they were so close. Narrow, winding roads cut paths through the whitewashed structures. A number of much larger buildings, governmental in nature, Rick surmised, broke the boxy monotony of the lesser structures.
In the center and toward the river rose a building many times larger than any other. Rick couldn’t tell because of the distance, but the base of this immense building looked to be a squat pyramid that itself rose above the other buildings, forming a massive foundation for the magnificent temple-like structure that rested upon it.
The city gradually decreased in density in all directions but continued as far as Rick could see on his side of the river. The outer areas eventually melded into farms, with homes and other buildings clustered here and there among harvested fields. The fields nearer Rick lay dry and burnt under the scorching sun, but in the distance, nearer the river, the ground still danced with color.
“So this is Nineveh,” Rick said matter-of-factly.
“Yes, the great city,” his grandfather responded. “The river beyond is the Tigris. We’re about 230 miles north of present-day Baghdad, 550 miles northeast of Jerusalem.38
“Look,” his grandfather said, pointing to their right.
Rick stepped forward to see beyond a boulder that was blocking his view. About twenty yards away stood a makeshift lean-to. A man was seeking shelter within it, mostly unsuccessfully, as there was little vegetation around them with which to fill in the cracks between sticks. A vine that grew up the sides and stretched over the top of the booth was withered and dying. “Jonah?” Rick asked.
“Yes. He climbed to this spot after preaching to the Ninevites as he had been commanded to do. Forty days,’ he told them, and you will be destroyed unless you repent.’39 He repeated his warning over the days and weeks that followed, the announced date of calamity marching ever nearer. Jonah liked delivering that message, Ricky, for he was eager for the Ninevites’ destruction. The worse they and their prospects were, the happier it made him feel. He enjoyed his role as prophet.’ But to his surprise and chagrin, the Ninevites repented and the Lord withdrew his sentence.
“Yesterday was the fortieth day from Jonah’s initial warning. He has spent the last twenty-four hours demanding that the Lord follow through on his initial word and destroy the Ninevites. Jonah remains on this hillside to witness that hoped-for destruction.”
“But the Lord doesn’t destroy them.”
“No, Ricky, he doesn’t. And Jonah’s story is about to end right here on this hill, with an angry Jonah baking under those sticks, and the Lord waiting for an answer to a question.”
Grandpa Carson smiled. “A question that was intended as much for you and for me as for Jonah.”
“What do you mean?”
“The book of Jonah ends with a question, a question the Lord asks of Jonah. But the scriptural record stops before Jonah answers. Jonah’s answer is omitted because his answer is important only to Jonah. The question remains for us unanswered, as the Lord poses it to each reader anew. The Lord now asks that question of you, Ricky. And your answer-today, and in every moment hereafter-will determine whether you will remain gripped by despair or find your way to joy.”
“What’s the question?” Rick asked with more urgency.
“Should not I spare Nineveh?'”40
That’s it? Rick wondered. “I’m not seeing the profundity, Grandpa. What am I missing?”
“You are missing Carol, my boy. And four children whose pains you do not know.”
These words took Rick’s breath away more fully than the scorching east wind that suddenly engulfed him.
“I want to show you something,” Grandpa Carson said, walking over to pick up a small stick that lay a few feet from them. Having retrieved it, he returned to where Rick was standing and squatted to the earth.
“There is something about the Jonah story that you should know,” he said, digging the stick deep enough through the sand to preserve the words despite the wind. After he had finished he said, “Look at this.”
He had written the following:
1. The Lord commands Jonah to preach against the wicked Ninevites.
2. Jonah sins, not wanting Nineveh to be saved.
3. Jonah repents and the Lord saves Jonah.
3. Nineveh repents and the Lord saves Nineveh.
2. Jonah sins, not wanting Nineveh to be saved.
- The Lord asks Jonah a question: Should not I spare Nineveh?
“This, Ricky, is the story of Jonah. Do you notice anything about it?”
“Yes. The elements of the story repeat themselves in reverse order. It’s a chiasm-an ordering structure prevalent in Hebrew writing.”
“Very good, Ricky,” said his grandfather, obviously impressed. “I didn’t know about chiasms until I came here,” he said-referring, Rick surmised, to the hereafter, and not specifically to the hill above Nineveh.
“Then you know, Ricky,” he continued, “that chiastic writings differ from linear writings in this respect: Chiastic passages point inward, to the center. The end of a chiastic story is not so much the end as it is an invitation to consider the center anew. With that in mind, let’s think about the chiasm’s closing element, the Lord’s question, Should not I spare Nineveh?’ What do you notice in the center?”
“Well, in both of the center elements the Lord delivered salvation.
First he saved Jonah, and then he saved Nineveh.”
“Exactly. The Lord saved Jonah and Nineveh alike, and on the same terms-repentance. So if Jonah’s answer to the Lord’s question is, No, the Ninevites, who you have saved, shouldn’t be saved,’ who, then, by implication, must also not be saved?”
“Jonah,” Rick answered, almost in a whisper. His mind raced trying to put the pieces together. “You’re saying that if Jonah can’t be happy at the thought of Nineveh’s salvation, then he makes himself unworthy of salvation.”
“Yes. Or perhaps I would put it this way: Jonah is already unworthy of salvation, as is Nineveh. No one merits it. Salvation is an act of mercy. The Lord poses his question in terms of mercy for Nineveh, but mercy for Nineveh is no longer in question. The mercy that remains in question is mercy for Jonah. The implication of the Lord’s question is this: Mercy can be extended only to those who are willing to extend it themselves.
“The Lord’s question to Jonah is the same one he posed in the parable of the unmerciful servant, whose debt the lord-his master-had forgiven: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?’ the lord asked. And his lord was wroth,’ the Savior taught, and delivered him to the tormentors. . . . So likewise,’ the Savior continued, shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.'”41
Rick’s shoulders slumped a little as he considered his marriage in light of what his grandfather was saying.
“It’s no accident, Ricky, that the very center statement of the book of Jonah, which appears in the middle of the center elements of the chiasm, with twenty-four verses preceding it and twenty-three verses following, reads: They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.’42 Jonah sits in that booth observing lying vanities: He has forgotten his own prior sin; he has forgotten the mercy extended to him by the mariners, who tried to spare him even when they knew he was the cause of their troubles; he has forgotten the ultimate mercy of the Lord, who delivered him even though he didn’t deserve it; and he is therefore blind to his own Nineveh-ness’-to how he, himself, is Nineveh. Failing to see mercifully, his heart, mind, and eyes are lying to him. All he can see is that he is right,’ entitled,’ deserving.’ Observing lying vanities,’ he is in danger of forsaking his own mercy.’ And feeling no personal mercy, he is locked in despair.
“Which leads me to this question, Ricky: Is there any way that you are forgetting your own sins? Any way that you are failing to remember mercies that Carol has showed you? Any way that you are forgetting the Lord? Any way that you have become blind to your own Nineveh-ness’? Any way that you persist in feeling entitled?
“Your escape from despair lies in your answer to these questions.”