Only Sorry You Got Caught
Jonah went out of the city . . . He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city. Jonah 4:5
You’re only sorry that you got caught. It’s been said of me and I’ve said it of others. When secret, destructive behavior becomes not-so-secret anymore, and the consequences begin to rain down, the tears usually start to flow. I’m sorry. I have a problem. I need help. These are all authentic, appropriate responses, but they should have come sooner and when they come only in the disaster, the observer is skeptical. You’re not truly changing. You’re only sorry about the painful consequences.
I think Jonah felt this way about Nineveh. Though God told him to go preach to Nineveh, Jonah hated the Ninevites and wanted to see them destroyed. When Jonah reluctantly obeyed, the Ninevites repented and God relented from overthrowing them.
Jonah then sat outside the city, hoping God would still destroy Nineveh. In his heart, Jonah did not believe these people had truly repented or deserved to be saved. I imagine him sitting there, wallowing in his anger. They’re fooling you God. They’re only sorry because of the threat of consequences. As soon as the threat has passed, they’ll return to their old ways. Just watch.
This is of course, the difference between remorse and repentance. When my struggle with addiction first came to light several years ago, I was very sorry. I suffered very few consequences though, and so I changed nothing. I had remorse without repentance and it wasn’t long until I returned to addiction. Only later, when I felt the sting of bitter consequence, did I truly become willing to change.
This is often the case. I’ve met very few people who voluntarily go to treatment. Most of us have required some external force compelling us to get help. I had to want recovery for myself, but I required pain and misery to get me to that point. I shudder to think of where I would be if I had not encountered consequences.
Not everyone will truly repent when they suffer the repercussions of their actions, but consequences are often necessary to get us to the point where we accept our need for change. The measure of whether we are truly repentant or if we are simply sorry we got caught, will always be revealed in our ongoing behavior.