Don’t allow the implausibility of an improbable situation to distract you from the truth…that’s the sentence that came to me when I was reading Jonah, and has me continually reading it over again these past couple months. I’ve always liked Jonah, it may sound odd, but he cracks me up because he is just so mad throughout the book. I can relate to that deep anger that turns to unforgiveness if it’s fed for too long. He’s angry at Nineveh, at God, and not at all mad at himself. He is righteous in his anger, and when you are in your flesh one has no desire to see those that have wronged you be forgiven by God. Assyria was their sworn enemy, and had been for a few hundred years. It’s serious business to be at war, and personal to be in one. I imagine Jonah was directly impacted by this war, the vehemency of his protests imply more than a viewing of this war from afar. One could ascertain he had experiences of loved ones being tortured, enslaved, raped, and killed. Then God tells him to preach to Nineveh for they are ready to repent. Frankly, I’d have a hard time not doing a Jonah as well. I’ll be driving to the shore, maybe stop and get a hoagie, and be on the beach waiting on the whale.
Jonah had an intimate relationship with God, he knew God. Unlike other books in the bible his disobedience didn’t stem from fear of starving, homelessness, or being killed by giants. The request of God is what shakes Jonah, the implausibility of God asking him to forgive not one person but a whole city. Coupled with the surety that God will do exactly what he said he will do, sent him running into the belly of a great fish. In those 3 days, Jonah battled not God or the world, more what the world would be like for him still a prophet, yet without God. He described it as being pulled down and held tight by the things of this world. Really it was all him, for if you aren’t of God, then you are of the world. For all intents and purposes he was swallowing himself, ensuring his own death. Then the depth of their relationship is displayed, Jonah sincerely prayed, and God moved…in 3 days of course. God knew that one day wouldn’t be enough, and that more than 3 days would be too much.
As the book unfolds, Jonah sets up his booth, and rather sullenly waits. At this point I’m thinking Jonah will surely let his anger go. He doesn’t, and becomes filled with rage against the gourd that he was exceeding glad about a few hours earlier. He’s so mad at the gourd he misses the worm that caused the gourd to wither. That sneaky pride that squirms it’s way through our hearts; if we’re not vigilant is able to destroy many a good seed even when it’s blossomed into a good fruit. The worm was his pride, it was himself, and the only protection from that is God. All the miracles, and improbable situations God is placing in Jonah’s path aren’t moving him to repent of his own anger. His feet are dug in, and he doesn’t want to share God with Nineveh, he’s making God his god, and his own pride the source of forgiveness. The patience and love God shows is so awesome, he provides protection, and exposure simultaneously. As in Acts there isn’t a neat and tidy conclusion. Just as we are in a personal war with the enemy on a daily basis, the church’s business should be ongoing. Still I thought why end with cattle? It was God’s love that spared the cattle, which Nineveh would have been exceeding glad about. Turning to God meant exposing themselves to the empire they once served. He provided the cattle as protection against hunger, and poverty that would have occurred.
As my own relationship with God grows, and He’s stretching me beyond my comfort level, it becomes harder to say no to God. The desire to say no still exists, but it becomes embarrassing to say no to God, and then praise Him about how awesome He is. I know what it is to be engulfed in the greatness of my sins, and I know what it is to be tripped up by the small ones. Instead of wallowing in my improbable situations, I’m embracing the truth of my situation that it isn’t about me at all. The pride I would use as my shield to walk my path is being replaced by a more fervent desire to have others see what God is able to do.