Day 7

Binary Thinking

from the Jonah reading plan

Read the Word
Exodus 34:5-7 | Joel 2:13 | Jonah 4:2

Most children’s Bibles end the story of Jonah with the repentance of Nineveh, skipping Chapter 4 entirely – and with good reason. The final chapter of Jonah is a bewildering mix of histrionic emotions, divinely appointed flora/fauna and snarky rhetorical questions from God. Not to mention an ending that leaves us hanging. Does Jonah live? Does he learn anything from this story? And what about all those cows?

After the remarkable repentance of the Ninevites, Jonah is angry that God actually is who He says He is, throwing God’s very words about Himself back in His face. Jonah has fallen victim to binary thinking about God and life in general. Either God is gracious and merciful OR He brings judgement to the wicked. People are either good and deserving of compassion OR they are wicked and deserving of death. Things are either going well and life is worth living OR life is full of disappointments and death is the best option.

Jonah’s binary thinking is illustrated by his dramatic mood swings throughout the chapter. He goes from anger at God’s mercy, to happiness at the extra shade that God has provided, and back to anger again when the plant is eaten by a worm. In our last glimpse of Jonah, we see him sweating, sunburnt and faint, begging (again!!) for death. He seems to have completely forgotten his own words in Chapter 2:7, where he prays, “When my life was fainting away, I remembered the Lord.”

Even if we don’t respond to our circumstances quite as dramatically as Jonah does, it can be easy to get caught up in our own binary thinking. We apply reductionist labels to entire groups of people rather than viewing them as unique individuals. We put people in a box and view them as “worth our time” OR “too needy/complicated/risky.” We can view God the same way Jonah did – either/or – instead of realizing that He is both merciful AND just.

Binary thinking isn’t always wrong – some things are either right or wrong, true or false. But when we view the entire world that way, we miss the beautiful, maddening, messy mystery of a God who both judges sin AND loves us enough to die in order to save us from it.

Your Response

Do you struggle with viewing God as both judging and loving? Why or why not?

What can we miss about God and each other when we think in binary terms?

Have you ever been caught up in binary thinking that was damaging or unhealthy? Talk to God about it today and ask Him to help you view that person or situation more clearly.