Perhaps Jonah stands in for everyone of us; wishing that God would just see things our way.
as told by Deborah
When the people of Nineveh repented of their evil ways, God decided not to cause the disaster that had been planned for them; and it didn’t happen.
But Jonah hated that fact, and he was hopping mad.
He said to God, “Dammit! I knew this would happen! That’s why I tried to put a stop to it at the beginning: because I know that You are gracious and merciful, patient, abundantly loving, and always looking for a reason to renew and redeem. O God, just kill me; I’d rather be dead.”
And God said, “And you’ve got the right to be angry because….?”
Then Jonah went a little ways out of the city and set up camp so he could watch, hoping to see the destruction of the city.
God sent a plant to grow next to Jonah, and its long broad leaves shaded him from the hot sun and kept him cool; so Jonah was very happy that it was there.
But the next morning God sent a worm to attack the plant, so that its leaves withered and died.
Then God arranged for a hot, muggy day, and the sun beat down on Jonah’s head so he was dizzy and sick. It was, you might say, hotter than Hell. “I’d rather be dead than live like this,” he said.
And God asked Jonah, “So, is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” And he said, “Yes; its loss is killing me.”
“Ah,” God said, “You mourn the loss of a plant — which you didn’t plant or cultivate or nurture. It came into being one day and perished the next. So shouldn’t I be concerned about Nineveh, a city of more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons — lost and hopeless and perishing — not to mention the animals?”
“I wish he was dead!” We’ve all said it — or at least thought it: how much better life would be if our enemies were gone from this earth.
That’s how Jonah felt about Nineveh: a city teeming with the sworn enemies of his people; a wicked and deceitful lot, filled with venom and a longing to destroy all that he held dear. Not a decent soul among them. Oh, if only God would strike them down!
We’ve all shared his fantasy.
Drug dealers and war mongers, murderers and rapists, the hurtful and the hateful, the vile and the vicious: eradicated, eliminated, cast into the outer darkness where they can hurt no one ever again, forever. Who can resist the temptation to imagine how much better things would be?
Yet such people live on, and often thrive and prosper — and that is really hard to take. It doesn’t seem fair, or right, and it certainly can’t be good.
How can a merciful and loving God allow this to happen? That’s the classic question and quandary; the fact of life that non-believers so often toss our way.
If God is all-loving, just, and good, how is it that the world is in such a state? Why do the innocent suffer and sorrow while the wicked live long and happy lives?
It isn’t fair.
And that’s really where it pinches us, isn’t it?
In our minds we frame it as a justice issue: equating life and death with right and wrong. We perceive mortal life as a reward, and death as a punishment. It is a theology of accountancy, of profit and loss — as viewed in worldly terms: the “prosperity Gospel” in another guise.
When we claim to want justice, very often what we actually desire is vengeance. We want to see “the bad guys” shamed, suffering, awash in misery, and utterly destroyed. Like Jonah, we’d like to situate ourselves a little ways out of town and watch the fireworks as God’s wrath pours down upon the wicked. That would show ’em.
Except it wouldn’t.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones.
~ Wm Shakespeare
When disaster strikes, it strikes the good and the bad; when an evil man dies, all traces of his goodness die, as well. Any hope for a change of heart, for repentance or a reformation of character in this world is buried along with the body. What has been done cannot be undone.
If Nineveh was destroyed, some bad people would die — and so would some good people, along with countless parakeets and pigeons and puppies and newborn kittens. There would be no fresh starts, no tender dreams or sweet desires, no hope for the future. And that would be a cause for grieving. Where once there was life and love and possibilities, there would be only silence. And that would grieve God’s heart.
“Never mind that withered shrub — what about that huge city; those hundreds of people, and all those animals?” God calls upon Jonah to extend his compassion beyond his own “comfort level”; to focus his concern on others. If our hearts are troubled by harm done to animals, and to the earth — surely God is troubled when Creation is at risk, including those members of creation whom we fear and hate.
What would it look like for us to seek to find the good in others? What would it look like for us to believe that there may, indeed, be good in others — even those we’ve learned to see as our enemies? What would it look like for us to be compassionate and merciful toward everyone?
Jesus said, “I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may truly be children of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
~ Matthew 5:44-45
What would it look like, if we did these things? It would look as if we are true children of the Beloved. It would mean we would strive (and, certainly, usually struggle) to develop the kind of character that Jonah complained to God about: “gracious and merciful, patient, abundantly loving, and always looking for a reason to renew and redeem.”
Our enemies might not be transformed — but we would be.
It’s easy to laugh at the unwilling prophet Jonah’s foiled efforts to undermine the work God set for him. But his story is not so much a comedy as a cautionary tale, warning us that when we yearn for “justice” from a human’s point of view, we may be in danger of forgetting God’s point of view.
As Christians, we say that the Eternal spoke most profoundly and clearly in the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. Condemned by those who believed him to be an “enemy” of what was right and good, he was tortured, crucified, and died. And we say that as He suffered, God suffered — yet God did not seek revenge for this cruelty, but instead sought our redemption.
In faith we proclaim that God refutes hatred and destruction with mercy and resurrection. God is not a vengeance-seeking God, but the One who is “gracious and merciful, patient, abundantly loving, and always looking for a reason to renew and redeem.”
God sees our anger, our outrage, our fear, and our hatred, and has compassion on our disordered and suffering souls. All disordered and suffering souls. Even those whom we hate and fear.
Let us close, as did the author of the book of Jonah, by giving God the last word: “Shouldn’t I be concerned about all those lost and hopeless and perishing?”
Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,
Try to have compassion for your enemies, to look upon them with Christ-like eyes of pity and mercy. Pray for them, if you can (it won’t be easy!), and pray that you may grow more fully into a radiant child of your Father in heaven.