The story of Jonah is often learned as a children’s story. Though the biblical account is short (only 4 chapters), most learn the truncated story: Jonah runs, Jonah is swallowed, Jonah is vomited out, Jonah lives happily ever after. It is ironic that we call the story, “Jonah and the Whale” because using the word “whale” deviates from the biblical account as much as the rest of the children’s story. In reality, Jonah’s tale is sad and shocking, telling greatly of our failures and God’s mercy.

Tullian Tchividjian explores this in his book, Surprised by Grace: God’s Relentless Pursuit of Rebels. In this book, Jonah’s failures are laid bare, just as they are in scripture. More so, Tchividjian shows at every turn how God’s mercy exceeded these failures, all along reminding us that we are Jonah.

Tchividjian uses a great mix of classic theology (citing Calvin’s commentaries more than others), art (there are pages of prints to explore), and modern poetry (from Robert Frost and John Piper) to draw out the richness of Jonah’s tale. Tchividjian is clearly passionate about Jonah and as a pastor, he applies the lessons of the text to sinners needing reconciliation.

That is not to say that this book is purely a devotional book. Though it has those elements, and is easily readable, it is equally scholarly. The entire text of Jonah is covered and there is an extensive bibliography. I plan to place this book in my library along side my Jonah commentaries.

We are all rebels when it comes to God. Like Jonah, we attempt to run as far as we can in the opposite direction. Like Jonah, God pursues such rebels relentlessly, saving them from the depths, bringing them back to His purpose, and displaying his mercy in unimaginable ways.

I strongly recommend this book. If you are familiar with the biblical account of Jonah then you will enjoy this rich treatment. If all you know is “Jonah and the whale,” read this book immediately.

And now there’s no freer place to be in life than going with him – the One who is himself our true liberty.

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