Pursued: Great Equation


Humans have devised many scales of measurement. We measure height or length in terms of inches, yards, and meters. Most of us probably grew up being measured against a wall, seeing our progress. We measure the distance traveled by home-runs and hurricanes.  We weigh objects in pounds and ounces. We divide time from millennia all the way down to nanoseconds (one-billionth of a second). We measure temperature down to absolute zero (0 degrees Kelvin or minus 459.7 degrees Fahrenheit)

But you may not be aware of these strange measurements:

  • The Smoot: As almost every MIT student knows, a smoot is a unit of length equal to five feet seven inches. In 1958, a 5 foot 7 inch tall fraternity pledge named Oliver Smoot agreed to be used to measure the Harvard Bridge which connects Boston and Cambridge. After repeatedly lying down on the bridge and having his position marked in chalk, it turned out that the bridge was 364.4 smoots (and an ear) long. Google now offers the option to measure anything in smoots.
  • The “Just a Moment”: Whenever somebody asks you to do something and you reply “just a moment,” don’t think you’re being sneaky by not giving them a precise time. You’re not. A moment was a measurement of time used during the medieval period that’s roughly equal to one and a half minutes.
  • The Scoville: The Scoville Scale is used to measure the amount of capsaicin in chilies, because it’s important to know the exact temperature of the inferno that’s raging in your mouth. For example, the Scolville rates a pimento (100-500), cayenne pepper (30,000-50,000), the Carolina reaper (1,000,000), and law enforcement pepper spray (5,000,000) on the scale.

Despite all our attempts to exact specifics and precision, our attempts to measure God or put our relationship with God into an equation comes up drastically short. Today we find that God’s grace, power, and Christ’s riches are beyond our measuring instruments, but it doesn’t always keep us from trying. In our sermon series PURSUED, after Jonah’s great escape and great exchange and Nineveh’s great embrace with God—today we come across an equation which has the ability to blow your mind.

Remember what’s been happening in the earlier chapters of Jonah. He has unsuccessfully run from God, found the process by which God’s discipline and mercy were applied to save him and renew his mission, and after a day’s walk into Nineveh, the wicked and wild people did the unfathomable—they repented, embracing God’s love rather than their evil. It is Jonah’s response tells us that his first equation is out of whack:

The Forgiveness Equation—(Jonah 4:1-4) But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?”Jonah is not angry because he is judging God mistakenly, but because his perception of God is accurate. In his anger he quotes from Exodus 34 when Moses had asked to see God’s glory and presence, and from within the crevice of a rock Moses watched God pass by. Jonah throws God’s closeness back in his face. He’d rather die than see the people of Nineveh live. Jonah had run the numbers in his head—the forgiveness equation was clear—their sins far exceeding their saintly acts—they weren’t deserving forgiveness, reprieve, relenting, and yet God’s compassion had exceeded Jonah’s call for their destruction.

The forgiveness equation isn’t rare—we pull it out all the time when we feel wronged, weighing the good that someone has done against the bad, an invisible scale sealing the fate of what the future of a relationship will look like. We pull it out when we think of welcoming back an absent parent into our lives, rebuilding with a spouse that crossed the line, renewing a friendship when they stabbed us in the back. A man was telling a companion about an argument he’d had with his wife. “Oh, how I hate it,” he said. “Every time we fight she gets historical.” “You mean hysterical,” replied the friend. “NO, I mean historical,” he insisted. “She drags up everything from the past and holds it against me!” (Daily Bread)


If you ever watched the sitcom FRIENDS that ran in 90’s and early 2000’s one episode had Monica and Phoebe trying to figure out how to cut out of their lives an old “friend” who annoyed them immensely with her fake British accent and snobby and arrogant comments. An online magazine by thee name of New Health Advisor offered helpful tips on the “9 Ways to Cut People Out.” For many this is their perpetual reality, never able to rise above their past mistakes. The equation forever slighted against us, but God’s forgiveness equation goes far beyond our standards. Peter came to Jesus and asked if he had to forgive his brother 7 times, 3 times in the Jewish culture was considered compassionate, so Peter was going to the extreme, but Jesus outpaced him, ““I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” In other words, don’t even bother keeping track! For me there was no more powerful example than the Charleston, SC shooting in 2015 at Emanuel AME church. 21 year old Dylan Roof sat through an hour Bible study, almost changed his mind, and then killed 9 parishoners who had come mid-week to be recharged. It didn’t happen at first, but “It took me a while,” said Elizabeth Alston, 70, Emanuel’s archivist and a longtime member. “If somebody shot my mother, I didn’t think I could be as forgiving, but now I could. I just felt that I’ve been praying ‘forgive those who trespass against us’ (from The Lord’s Prayer) for years, and now it was time to re-examine those words and practice it.” (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/columnists/ct-emanuel-church-charleston-dawn-tur ner-20150928-column.html).

When we are wronged, someone stabs us in the back, cheats on us, cuts us out of their life, the urge is to hold onto it, to store up our legitimate anger. God as our loving heavenly Father wants what is best for us. Failure to forgive has famously been described as drinking poison and hoping the other person perishes. God wants more than that for us, he wants us to be reconciled to others so we can enjoy the full fruits of being reconciled to our Father.


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