By James L. Ferrell
An excerpt from The Peacegiver, published by Deseret Book.
How could Jonah be Nineveh?” Rick objected, thinking as well of himself. “He’s not a conqueror. He doesn’t make others’ lives miserable. He’s nothing like Nineveh. He’s a prophet, for heaven’s sake.”
“Actually, Ricky, he is exactly like Nineveh in the only way that really matters.”
“Remember, Jonah feels that Nineveh doesn’t deserve to be saved. That’s why he’s running. But guess who else doesn’t deserve to be saved?”
Grandpa Carson’s question hung heavy in the salty air.
“You’re saying that Jonah doesn’t deserve to be saved either,” Rick finally responded. His voice trailed off at the thought.
“Exactly. If Jonah demands that everybody gets only what they deserve, then he must also accept what he deserves. And, that, Ricky,” he said, turning his eyes back to the sea, “is what he is now getting.”
Grandpa fell silent and Rick became lost in his thoughts. But what about Carol and how she treats me! he bellowed within himself. “Without charity ye are nothing”-that’s what the scriptures say. And Carol is almost devoid of charity. She shouldn’t be like that. I deserve better. Isn’t that right? Rick was confused. Isn’t that right?
“Actually, you’re both right and wrong,” his grandfather interrupted, stepping again into Rick’s thoughts. “It is true that we are commanded to love and honor others, and it is likely true that Carol fails always to do that-just as you and I fail. But what’s false is this idea that you or I deserve that love and devotion-that we are somehow entitled to it.
The truth is that there is only one thing we truly deserve, and that’s to be sent to hell-you, Carol, me, Jonah, Nineveh, all of us. Love and salvation are gifts. How grateful we should be to receive them in any measure!” At that, Grandpa Carson again looked out across the sea.
“Hell is all we could ever hope for, Ricky, if it weren’t for the redeeming power of the Savior’s atonement. It is only his love, offered not because we deserve it but even though we do not, that saves us. We don’t want what we deserve, believe me. Jonah is finding that out right now. Our only hope is to receive what we don’t deserve-the mercy that brings the gift of eternal life. And Jonah is about to learn about that as well.”
So am I wrong to think that Carol is wronging me? Is that what this means? Rick argued within himself. “There’s something I don’t understand, Grandpa,” he objected. “I understand that without the Savior, we are all equally lost-you, me, Carol, Jonah, Nineveh. I understand that. But the fact is we’re not without the Savior. And his atonement requires our righteousness-we are saved by grace after all we can do,’36 right? So doesn’t it matter in Jonah’s case, for example, that he is more righteous than the Ninevites, notwithstanding this ill-fated run to Tarshish. Doesn’t that mean something?”
“Yes, it does mean something, Ricky, but not what you think it does.”
“You didn’t use to speak in riddles, Grandpa,” Rick chided.
Grandpa Carson’s laugh cleared the tension Rick was beginning to feel. He turned to face Rick. “I’m sorry, my boy. I’m not trying to confuse you. Let me put it this way: Whether or not Nineveh is righteous is critical, of course-but only for Nineveh. It has nothing to do with Jonah. And if he thinks it does-if he thinks he is more deserving because he is somehow better than Nineveh, then he in that moment becomes more Ninevitish’ than the people he is blaming.”
“But what if the Ninevites really are bad?” Rick asked, thinking of his marriage. “What if Jonah really is better than they are? What if he really is more righteous? Why would it be a problem for Jonah just to acknowledge the truth?”
“Because he wouldn’t be acknowledging the truth, Ricky, that’s just the point. If he really is more righteous than they are, it will not occur to him to think that he is more righteous than they are because he will understand fully and deeply that he is entitled to nothing but hell. At least in one sense, righteousness’ is simply a humble understanding of how unrighteous one is, coupled with a deep commitment to be better. The truth leaves no room for feelings of superiority. Such feelings are nothing but lying vanities.”
These words settled on Rick with such force that he gave up his project of reloading arguments. He hadn’t realized until that moment that his main object so far with his grandfather had been to be “right,” and that he had made most of their time together into a kind of verbal jousting match. Something about this last comment, or perhaps it was the way his grandfather had said it-Rick wasn’t sure-changed everything. He felt his toes relax, and he settled into his feet. The tension evaporated from his face and neck, and he turned to look out to sea with his grandfather.
“You see, Ricky, relative righteousness means nothing. Whether Jonah was better or worse than Nineveh isn’t the question at all, is it? And whether you are better or worse than Carol isn’t the question either. Some laborers work longer, the Savior told us in one of his parables, and others shorter.37 Each person’s payment at the end of the day has nothing whatsoever to do with the work of others. We are each working out our own salvation with fear and trembling before the Lord. And that gift will come to us only if we know in our hearts that we deserve it no more than anyone else. What I meant earlier by fleeing to Tarshish’ was just this: persisting in the idea that we are better, more righteous, and deserve more than others. The truth is, we are all, each of us, equally damned without the mercy of the Lord. Eternal life is a gift. I have no cause to feel entitled. I have cause only to feel grateful.”
“Yeah, I guess that’s right,” Rick agreed, heaving a heavy sigh. “But it’s just so difficult, Grandpa. I’m really struggling.” For the first time since he found himself on the ship, Rick let down his defenses and opened his heart.
“Carol and I aren’t good together, Grandpa,” he lamented. “I don’t respond well to her at all anymore. Every tiny injustice feels like it weighs a thousand pounds.” Rick kept looking out to sea, his eyes glazing over as his mind wallowed in recent events. “A week ago, for example, I started cooking dinner after work, which I’ve had to do more and more over the last couple of years as Carol has basically thrown in the towel on preparing meals. Anyway, I thought I’d make some scrambled eggs and started mixing them in a bowl.
Carol sat at the kitchen table while I did this, never offering help. And then, just before I dumped the eggs in the pan she told me to be sure to put butter in the pan so the eggs wouldn’t stick so much. I protested a bit, I suppose, and she said, Look, it makes the pans really difficult to clean if you don’t use butter. If you want to clean the mess yourself, then go ahead and do whatever you want.’ That’s what she said.
“And you know what?” Rick asked, more to himself than to his grandfather. “I just went off on her. I’d had enough. Why is there always a problem with what I do!’ I demanded. Why can’t you be grateful that I’m cooking dinner to begin with! Why can’t you just be grateful!’ And of course, I wasn’t grateful when I said it. I felt entitled to a well-cooked meal, and if I couldn’t have that, then I was entitled to cook in any way I pleased.” Rick’s eyes started to water at the futility of the memory. “She can’t even ask me to use butter anymore,” he sighed, his eyes filling with tears. “We can’t even talk about eggs.” Rick shook his head pathetically.
“Jonah knows well the despair that grips you, Ricky. But the Lord is about to teach him the way to escape from despair. Part one of that lesson now has Jonah in his belly.
“Part two awaits him in Nineveh.”