Jonah, after the fact

Our pastor finished up a four week series on the book of Jonah this morning.  The following is a hodgepodge of my reflections (and his) on the fourth and final chapter… and one of the most overlooked, least understood “resolutions” in the Bible.  In my opinion.

Jonah has just finished (begrudgingly) delivering a three-day message of “repent-or-yer-gonna’-burn” to the 120,000 citizens of the heathen city of Ninevah.  And it’s an evangelist’s dream-come-true: every man, woman, and child (even the king!) fall on their faces in mourning for the lost lives they’ve led, and beg for God’s forgiveness.  Everyone.  Billy Graham probably never saw results like that.

But Jonah isn’t happy.  To the contrary, he starts raging against God, because “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, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”  (v. 2-3, NIV)

Seriously?  What is this guy’s problem?  And God calls him on it: “Have you any right to be angry?” (v. 4)

I draw two important insights from this:

One, God can use me EVEN if I don’t have all my thoughts, motives, intentions, or ambitions in the right place.  All I have to be is willing.

Two, I can’t trust my feelings.  I may believe in my heart of hearts that something is right or wrong, but that doesn’t mean a thing if it doesn’t line up with the TRUTH of what God knows.

Jonah ignores God’s question, by the way.  Instead of answering him, he gets up and “went out and sat down at a place east of the city.  There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city.” (v. 5)

He was hoping that the people’s salvation wasn’t for-real!  Even though he was the one who brought them the message!  He still hated them enough to want to hang around for 40 days or so and see if they would get an almighty smiting of fire, thunder, coconuts, whatever.

That’s devotion.  I guess.

And of course, God isn’t done with Jonah.  He still wants him to understand his way of seeing things.  So he sends a nice, green, shady vine to grow up and keep Jonah cool.  (Causing, as the pastor pointed out, Jonah to be happy for the FIRST time in the entire book.)  Then he sends a worm to chew up the vine, which sends Jonah into another bout of suicidal self-pity.

And God asks again, “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?” (v. 9) Slightly different question, but still relevant.

Jonah finally stops ignoring God, and whines some more: “I do… I am angry enough to die.”

God ends the chapter with a question challenging Jonah, and all of us, to try to take on HIS perspective on things.  Jonah was so sad about a stupid plant drying up that he wanted to die, but the 120,000 people who were so screwed up that they “cannot tell their right hand from their left,” (v. 11) didn’t even trigger a tear of compassion from the very man sent to save them from themselves.

How could he… or better yet, how can WE get our priorities so screwed up that we wail and moan over things… our cars, our wardrobes, our 401k, our baseball card collections… and don’t give a second thought to the hundreds or thousands of people who die EVERY DAY without knowing God?

We call ourselves children of God, but where’s the family resemblance?  Why don’t we yearn more to know our dad’s heart?  Why don’t we listen to him, and want the thing that he wants most more than ANY other stupid, finite, earthly pursuit that we spend our days hungering after?

If we’re not spending every minute of every day thinking about how we can help, serve, and love people… then we’re missing it.

(Many thanks to Pastor Marshall Ford of Grace Fellowship Church, Borger Texas, for his continued and contagious fresh look at words I thought I knew so well, yet are being made new to me every week through his unassuming teaching and leadership.)


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The random musings of a 30-something, West Texas high-school science teacher. Hoo-RAY.
October 2009
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