Jonah’s is one of the best stories in the Bible. He is so much like us on our worst days. He’s self-centered, immature, and also honest with God. This is a short story…about a 10 minute read. In case you haven’t read it in a while, the story goes like this…
God sent Jonah to a big city called Nineveh because God had heard about how wicked the people there had become. Jonah immediately went the opposite direction and boarded a ship headed to Tarshish. So, God stirred up a big storm to wreck the ship. All of the sailors knew Jonah was running from his God (who made the sea, by the way) so they threw him in the sea to appease God’s anger. The big fish comes along and swallows Jonah. At this point, Jonah decides to make a beautiful prayer to God and the big fish spits him out. God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh for a second time, and this time he goes. He walks around this big wicked city for 40 days crying out that they are about to be overthrown! Everyone – up to the king himself – believed Jonah and repented and turned from their evil ways, hoping that God might change God’s mind. And that’s exactly what happened. God had compassion and did not bring calamity upon Nineveh.
But this was very displeasing to Jonah. He pouted. He prayed angrily to God and said, this is exactly why I did NOT want to go to Nineveh. Because I knew you. I knew you were gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and that you would relent from punishing. And he plopped down in a huff in the sun. God made a plant grow over him for shade, which made Jonah happy. But then a worm ate the plant, which made Jonah mad. God says, you are mad over the fate of one bush. Shouldn’t I be concerned over Nineveh, where over 120,000 people live who don’t know their right hand from their left, plus many animals? The end.
Jonah knew he was right about those wicked Ninevites. They deserved all they were about to get from God, but Jonah was also right about God, and God came through. God’s grace, mercy, forgiving nature, abounding steadfast love can really be an affront to our sense of righteous indignation.
We are told over and over again to love our neighbors and to pray for our enemies, but do you ever feel like Jonah? Maybe you don’t want to pray for whoever you have decided is wicked because you know God is compassionate, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. If you say that prayer, you expect God just might come through and that person’s wicked behavior might never receive the punishment you have deemed appropriate.
Jonah teaches us that God always sees us (and every person) with compassion, grace, mercy, forgiveness and with abounding steadfast love. We can never change that, thanks be to God!