The Pathetic Prophet Jonah 4
"God in the hands of an angry sinner" is how I heard Warren Wiersbe title Jonah 4. That title fits.
Only in the mind of pathetic, highly prejudiced Jonah could the grand description of Yahweh as "gracious and compassionate...slow to anger and abounding in love" be viewed as a flaw in God's character! What the Bible celebrates as the hope of the human race, Jonah fitfully spurns as a deficit weakness in God. "That's why I booked it to Tarshish because, whaaa!, whaaa!, you're that kind of namby-pamby God. I knew better. You embarrass me, God, by loving and sparing these stinking Ninevites. You've wasted your grace on the wrong people!"
What get's me is God's patience with Jonah. God just keeps asking, "Do you really have a right to throw a tantrum like this?"
"Yes, I do! Whaa! Whaa! I'm so mad and righteous, I just want to die!" He said this thinking that he was in the same league with his contemporary Elijah. I can just hear God saying under his breathe to the angels, "Jonah is no Elijah...just like Dan Quayle was no J. F. Kennedy."
The writer of this profound little book was a poetic genius. He draws us in, getting us to side with the captain and the sailors over against rebellious Jonah (chapter 1), getting us to admire the repentant king and the people of Nineveh and feel absolutely disgusted with Jonah (chapters 3-4). Then, whamo! The big conclusion: God humanizes Israel's greatest enemies of the time: the Assyrians.
Not only is that violent, pagan people humanized, they are being treated with compassion by Yahweh just as he treated Israel through the prophet Joel. God is no respector of persons when it comes to repentance! This really jerked Jonah's chain...and the first readers of this prophet and the people in Jesus' day. Remember Jesus' story about the vineyard owner who paid the guys who worked from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. (1 hour) the same as the ones who worked from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. (all day)? "Whaa! Whaa" That's not fair!!" God is free to "waste" his grace on whomever he pleases.
God is not fair. God is gracious. We should celebrate his loving, compassionate heart and affirm that God can express it when, on whom, and however he chooses.
Jonah had more "love" (or was it ugly self-interest?) for one plant--here today, gone today--than he had for an entire city of human beings. Pathetic.
Yet, let's be careful. A "Jonah" lurks in my heart and in yours, too. How many of us have wanted Al Qaida incinerated? How many have thought, if not outright said, "Nuke the Iraqis into oblivion?" We can only think that when we've dehumanized men and women and children who have been created in the "image of God."
Jesus never dehumanized Rome or Romans or Roman soldiers. As a matter of fact, he prayed, "Father, forgive them because they don't know what they're doing."
Is there more to "the sign of Jonah" than Jesus being in the grave? Could the sign of Jonah include an outrageous grace to "enemies"?