God, why on earth would you do that?
When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. Jonah 3:10
‘They’ being the Assyrians, the arch enemies of the people of God. When Jonah went to them with God’s message of judgement, they turned away from their evil ways. They repented. They turned to God.
And God relented.
Jonah must have been so pleased. He had been instrumental in saving a whole city from destruction. His God had responded in love and mercy. There was much to celebrate here, much to praise God for.
Oh no, no, no, no. It wasn’t like that at all.
But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. Jonah 4:1
And why did God’s response to the people of the city of Nineveh seem wrong to Jonah?
- because Jonah had made the journey for nothing
- because God had changed His mind
- because why would anyone take God seriously in the future when he made threats?
- because Jonah now looked like a right fool
- because these people didn’t deserve God’s forgiveness
- because God was just too soft sometimes
- because that’s precisely why Jonah had never wanted to come to Nineveh with this message in the first place
- because the whole thing was just a joke
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.’ Jonah 4:2
Jonah’s tired. He’s disappointed. He’s been to hell and back for nothing. When his initial anger dissipates, exhaustion takes over. All he wants to do is lie down and die. Forget any of this ever happened.
Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live. Jonah 4:3
He can’t do this any more. He’s not up to what God’s asking of him. Nothing makes sense to him any more.
What’s he going to say when he goes back home? How’s he going to explain this?
But God isn’t finishes with him yet. God has a lesson to teach him.
‘Is it right for you to be angry?’ Jonah 4:4
Jonah’s found a place to sit down and has made himself a shelter from the sun. God sends a leafy plant to grow up over Jonah to provide more shade. The relief from the glare and heat of the sun is welcome and Jonah is full of gratitude. But the next morning, God sends a worm to eat up the plant and a scorching wind. The blazing sun made Jonah feel faint.
He wanted to die, and said, ‘It would be better for me to die than to live.’
But God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?’
‘It is,’ he said. ‘And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.’ Jonah 4:8-9
Jonah can’t see what God is trying to teach him. That Jonah is concerned about the plant because it serves his purposes to be. He didn’t do anything to make it grow or to keep it alive. He relied on God to do all the work for him. How much more concern should God have over a whole people? God cares for the plants of the earth, but how much more does He care for a whole city?
And that’s it.
We don’t hear the end of the argument.
We don’t hear what Jonah did next.
We don’t hear what happened with Nineveh.
The book of Jonah stops abruptly with many questions unanswered.
That last example seems rather cryptic and could do with some more explanation.
God has the power to destroy and to save, that much is clear. We should never forget that.
But neither should we never forget that God is a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love.
So as we come to the end of this story, I have some questions of my own to leave you with.
Have you ever been angry at one of God’s decisions? Or seeming lack of decision?
Have you ever been annoyed when God has shown mercy to someone you felt really didn’t deserve it?
Is there someone you can think of who you really can’t understand why God would have reached out to them?
Have you ever been annoyed that God has made you look like a fool?
Have you ever been so overwhelmed with exhaustion and the futility of your life that you wished you were dead?
Has God ever provided for you and then taken that provision away?
Have you ever been confused about what God is up to?
Have you ever felt that God has got it wrong?
Have you ever felt that God is too loving and too forgiving and that we could do with a bit more of His righteous judgement around here?
If Jonah teaches us anything, it is that it is OK to have questions, to tell God all about our disappointment and confusion and annoyance.
But look at Jonah. Never once does he doubt who God is. He stays in open, honest relationship with Him. He knows who God is. What God is like.
However many questions we have, this is what we can always come back to.
This is God.
I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Jonah 4:2