Optimism in a Falling World- Jonah 4:1-3

But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.
And he prayed unto the Lord, and said, I pray thee, O Lord, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.
Therefore now, O Lord, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.

COMMENTARY

In my last post I considered the people of Nineveh, whom God had been preparing to destroy, but then He spared them when they ended up repenting of their sins and returned back to Him.

But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.
And he said, Was not this my saying, when in my country? Therefore I fled: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.
And Jonah couldn’t stand it! This is the first point in the story where it is explained why Jonah initially ran from the city of Nineveh. The natural assumption would be that he was afraid of the people, nervous that they would murder him for pronouncing doom upon them. But it turns out this wasn’t his concern at all. What he was afraid of was that God would show the people mercy!
Jonah wanted those people to die! He didn’t want to warn them about it and give them a chance to repent. He wanted them to stay wicked so that they would die.

Therefore now, O Lord, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live
Jonah is a miserable being. Throughout the rest of the book God patiently tries to get through to him, but we never do find out what became of the man in the end.
But my reason for bringing him up is because he is far from the only person to desire vengeance on the world. There are many who are excited to see our falling world burn. And I am not referring to people outside of religion, either. I have heard members of many churches who, like Jonah, were gleefully looking forward to the world getting what it deserved, intending to gloat over the suffering of the wicked.
Such may be surprised when the fiery brimstone falls from heaven and it is centered on their own home!

Optimism in a Falling World- Jonah 3:4-5, 10

And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.
So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.
And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.

COMMENTARY

So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.
And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not

The exact sins of Nineveh are not detailed in the account of Jonah, but evidently they were of such significance that God was prepared to destroy the entire city! When we consider the example of other cities that received such a divine retribution, such as Sodom and Gomorrah, then it seems safe to say that the wickedness in Nineveh must have been extremely pronounced!
Yet for as fallen as the people might have been, it turns out that they were not beyond reclamation. After all, why send a prophet to them, even with a message of doom, unless there yet remained some hope that that doom might be averted?
From this story I learn to look at the sort of people I might consider to be a lost cause, and I realize that they are actually far from it! Truly there are places of deep evil today, and I am sure there are individuals who are ripe for destruction, but these are most definitely the minority. By and large, people are still basically good, still within the reach of hope. There are many who are waylaid, but that are the same sort that Jesus vouched for with the words “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). And instead of trying to push these confused souls towards their destruction, we should be inviting them back to the fold.

Evolving Your Beliefs- Jonah 4:4, 6-11

Then said the Lord, Doest thou well to be angry?
So Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city,
And the Lord God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd.
But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered.
And it came to pass, when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die, and said, It is better for me to die than to live.
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?

COMMENTARY

Doest thou well to be angry?
So Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city.
Yesterday we observed how Jonah became angry when God showed mercy to the people of Nineveh. Jonah wanted them to be destroyed instead. God challenges Jonah with the question “doest thou well to be angry?” but Jonah does not respond. He gets up and leaves instead.
Sometimes we get angry with God because we, too, disagree with His methods. We think we know how things should be, and are hurt to have Him tell us that we are wrong.

And the Lord God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief
But God prepared a worm, and it smote the gourd that it withered
And God said to Jonah, Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd?

When our pride has been stung we lash out. “Hey, don’t touch that! It hurts!” Which request God promptly ignores. He jabs His finger firmly into it! He isn’t going to just let this go. We have a festering blemish and He is going to lance it and it is going to hurt…. But He only does it so that we can finally heal.
So while Jonah is fuming under the gourd God reaches out and makes him even angrier! He kills the gourd, and when Jonah complains he brings back the still unanswered question: “doest thou well to be angry?
This time Jonah answers “I do well to be angry, even unto death.”

Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured
And should not I spare Nineveh, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons?

And now the Lord shows Jonah the contradiction that he is making. Jonah is sorry, and rightfully so, for the death of a gourd. But he is unfeeling for the death of an entire city. Even the densest of people should be able to see the misaligned priorities here. The Lord is stressing to Jonah that there is no pleasure in destruction. It is tragic for a gourd to fall, and it is tragic for a people to die. Perhaps Jonah already knew these things in his head, but needed God to break him down so that he could feel them in his heart.
I certainly have been emotionally tied to my own misconceptions as well, and like Jonah I built up walls to protect them. I said I was being “righteously indignant,” but I wasn’t, I was just being obstinate.

Evolving Your Beliefs- Jonah 3:4-5, 10; 4:1

And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.
So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.
And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.
But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.

COMMENTARY

But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry
The story of Jonah is very interesting. First God calls him to teach the people of Nineveh and he tries to run away. Then he repents of that folly and goes and proclaims death and destruction on the city. They repent and are spared, and he is furious that God is willing to forgive them.
Jonah clearly knows God, has intimate conversations with Him, and presumably wants to be a good disciple…but he keeps butting heads with God anyhow. He thinks that God’s policy should be one way, and is disappointed when it is otherwise. In this small story of his life, Jonah seems to be more devoted to his sense of what is right than God’s.
But we probably shouldn’t criticize him too harshly, because I think each of us disagrees with God on one point or another, even as we’re trying to follow Him. Some of us are worried that God is too lenient, afraid that He isn’t going to punish those who deserve it. Some of us are worried that God is too harsh, afraid that He won’t accept us with all of our indulgences.
When we make up our minds as to what the spiritual truths are supposed to be, we then become very touchy when someone suggests that we are wrong. Like Jonah, “it displeases us exceedingly, and we are very angry!”
I have personally experienced this a few times, and in hindsight I’ve always realized that my anger was not righteous indignation, I was lashing out because someone had touched a nerve. They had inadvertently touched on some festering emotional baggage. Of course, I did not want to admit that I was wounded, so I maintained all the more loudly that I was standing for the right. But of course, God sees through that whole facade, and tomorrow we’ll examine how He breaks it down.