I was led today to read the book of Jonah. Everyone thinks they know the story of Jonah. We grow up hearing of “Jonah and the Whale” or “Jonah and the Big Fish.” But this morning reading the book of Jonah, just four chapters, I realized that the part about the big fish really was a small part in Jonah’s tale. Because Jonah’s tale is a tale of disobedience, running from one’s calling, obedience, depression, anger/wrath, grace, forgiveness/unforgiveness… Then we are left without knowing, after all that, how he ended – what path he chose, did he or didn’t he choose grace and forgiveness? Did he understand the lessons that God taught him, or not? Because, the book of Jonah ends on a question, asked by the Lord:
Jonah 4:9-11 KJV “And God said to Jonah, Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd? And he said, I do well to be angry, even unto death. Then said the Lord, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night: And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?”
Jonah’s story begins, as we all know, God told him to go to Nineveh and preach. He fled to Tarshish instead, by boat. God caused the seas to rage, the men in the boat didn’t want to, but at Jonah’s command, and after the Lord said to, they tossed him overboard and a big fish swallowed him up. What we didn’t learn as kids hearing the Bible story, was that Jonah wanted to die. Jonah dwelt there, in the belly of the whale, 3 days, until he repented. After being vomited out onto dry land, the Lord told Jonah to go to Nineveh, again. Jonah obeyed this time and preached destruction for their wicked ways, in 40 days. The king called for a 40-day fast throughout the land and the people repented. God was moved, and turned away His fierce wrath. This angered Jonah! Unbelievable, right? He told the Lord that it was better for him to die than to live! The Lord asked him if it’s better for him to be angry (is your anger justified? Does it make sense)? Then the Lord blessed Jonah with a gourd over his head in the night to cover him, and take away his grief. Jonah was pleased. Then the Lord removes the gourd. Again, Jonah wants to die! It’s better for me to die than to live! God asks him, how he can pity a gourd, a plant to which he didn’t make but would have God destroy the people of Nineveh? That’s deep.
I was pricked in myself. How often do I place value on things, on inanimate objects and forget about people – souls, as if they don’t deserve a chance. As if God’s grace is not for everyone… Oh, my heart is heavy! Jonah also had an attitude that seemed to say, “Why do what (God) told me to do, when He knew the outcome all along?” This got me thinking… Do we sometimes serve, or do what’s right out of duty or desire? There is such a huge difference. Sure, I can go to church, love my neighbor (or try to) out of duty. But is it really love? Won’t it just take more out of me than necessary, and wear me out? Won’t my patience run thin? Will I become upset when I see “good things happen to bad people” as well as the reverse? But, desire! To desire to live with the love of God, not just in my heart, but as a lifestyle… Now this is something! To love those who curse me and persecute me. To wish blessings on those who do evil against me – from a pure place that can only come from above.
We simply cannot become vexed when the Lord offers forgiveness for repentance, especially when we, ourselves have been forgiven and offered so much grace. Reading the Book of Jonah, I was perplexed. I really just wanted to know his response in the end. But, I look at myself and the times that I have lacked compassion for individuals and gave more concern for things. I realize the times that I have served with duty, rather than desire. Yes, we know God is merciful, still, when He leads me to act, I must obey, regardless of the task. I don’t know the outcome, I would never presume to know. For now, I’ll work on keeping my desire from becoming duty, and remembering that I too am forgiven.