Who Is The Hero Of Your Story?
The book of Jonah ends abruptly with a rhetorical question from God to Jonah. “Should I not pity Nineveh?” No response from Jonah is recorded. The book leaves him sulking on a hot hillside—a decidedly unflattering picture of a prophet!
But whose story is this? Jonah is obviously the author and main character of the book, but the Hero of the story is none other than God. It is God who determines to send his prophet to wicked Nineveh, who mercifully answers Jonah’s prayer from the belly of the fish, who graciously forgives the penitent Ninevites, and who continues to patiently teach Jonah even as the book ends. God’s defining character, first revealed to Moses in Exodus 34:6 and quoted in exasperation by Jonah (4:2), is on full display: “you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” Even though Jonah rails against him, God is the one who is glorified throughout.
What true prophet would have it any other way?
Is seems likely that Jonah did indeed learn his lesson; how else would the book have come into being? Yes, all Scripture is breathed out by God through his Spirit (2 Tim. 3:16, 2 Pet. 1:21), but we assume that he worked through willing authors, Jonah being no exception. If that is so, we may further assume that Jonah was willing for the story to be written as it is, recording his sinful actions and attitudes for all to see, thereby giving the glory to God. Jonah does not make himself the hero of his own story.
Jonah’s apparent self-effacement goes against normal human behavior. The natural tendency, so to speak, is to emphasize one’s successes and accomplishments while glossing over one’s weaknesses and failures. The same can be seen at the national level, as the old saying attests: “history is written by the victors.” To glorify self is at the heart of the “pride of life.”
God has a different plan for our lives. He is the true and only Hero, and our highest purpose is to find our place in his story. We see this most clearly in his Son. Jesus allowed himself to be disgraced and humiliated because he put the glory of the Father above his own self-interest.
When Jesus Christ was slandered, he responded, “I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge” (John 8:49-50, ESV). Jesus despised the shame of the cross (Heb. 12:2), yet he allowed his own story to lead to that dreadful death because he believed in a higher purpose than seeking his own glory. By humbling himself, Jesus shows us the only true path to glory: “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me” (John 8:54, ESV). “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11, ESV). This is God’s story; he is the Hero to whom all glory belongs, and he will glorify those who seek his glory instead of their own.
We must have the same mind that we see in Christ, putting the glory of God and the interests of others above our own (Phil. 2:3-5). Paul himself gives us a good example of this. Before finding his true purpose in Christ, Paul had an impressive storyline going, as measured by the men of his day. But when he discovered Christ Jesus, he threw his old story in the trash, so to speak (Phil. 3:4-8). His only boasting from that point onward was in the cross of Christ (Gal. 6:14).
If I am the hero of my own story, I will seek the approval and recognition of my peers. I will protect my legacy by hiding any flaws and failures while magnifying my supposed accomplishments. And I will be doomed to fail.
If, however, I discover that the true Hero of my story is God, I will let him use me however he sees fit. If others can see his strength in my weakness (2 Cor. 12:8), if they can see the glory of his grace in the forgiveness of my sins (1 Tim. 1:14-16), then I should not concern myself with how I am perceived, so long as God is glorified. “To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Tim. 1:17, ESV)