In our three previous articles on the book of Jonah, we have seen God sometimes uses even negative circumstances to grab our attention to his calling of us.
We have also seen that God is the God of resurrection and restoration, graciously bringing his Word to us, if necessary, a ‘second time’. In this final article, we see that, although Jonah was ultimately obedient, his heart was still in need of divine surgery.
Nineveh repented, ‘but it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry. So he prayed to the Lord, and said, Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore, I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that you are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm.
‘Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live! Then the Lord said, Is it right for you to be angry?’ (Jonah 4:1-4).
Anger is not always a bad thing. Of course it is right to be angry at injustice. But is it right to be angry at God? Anger usually causes a serious loss of perspective; it helps us to make poor judgments. It can eat us up and overwhelm us.
One thing is for sure, anger reveals itself in the end. With Jonah it comes out in a fit of sulking. How does it come out with you?
The root of anger is pride. Jonah seems to be saying in his conversation with God that he has a right to feel this way. God has gifted us with free will, so, in one sense, Jonah can feel any way he likes. But the question remains, ‘Is Jonah right to be angry with God?’
What is it that makes us angry with God? It is often when he does or does not do what we expect him to; when he does not heal a family member; when he does not supply us with a husband or wife; when he does not get us that promotion; when he allows calamity to come across our path.
The list could go on. The root of such a response lies in pride, and the tragic fact is that as we continue to be angry with God, while we may continue to function as normal, we lose something precious in the process, and that is the belief that God is good.
Even in this chapter, God is being good to Jonah, exposing his bitter heart in the hope that Jonah may once again turn and repent. Jonah had been obedient in carrying out the act God wanted him to carry out, but it is clear his heart needs a serious measure of transformation.
God may well be pleased that Jonah turned and went to Nineveh. But the Lord shows here that he calls for more than mere obedience; he would rather Jonah had a heart of compassion for the Ninevites in the way God had.
The book ends in a mist of mystery. What happens to Jonah? What happens to Nineveh? While we are unsure of Jonah’s continuing ministry, we know from history that, 100 years after the repentance of Nineveh, the city was razed to the ground. But, in Jonah’s day and directly due to his influence, Nineveh experienced mercy and forgiveness on the grandest of scales.
We have no idea how this land of ours will turn out in the long-term. One thing we do know though, from the lessons of Jonah, is that God desires to grant mercy to those we might feel do not deserve it.
Yet he is calling us to be his mouthpiece in our time and have a heart of compassion like his for the sinner, the depraved and hell-worthy. Let us be like Jonah in marching towards our own Nineveh with the message of God on our lips. But let us not be like him in doing it out of a heart of anger, preferring judgment to mercy.
William Wade is an Army Scripture Reader, with SASRA, in Colchester