Jonah was really upset and angry. So he prayed:
Our Lord, I knew from the very beginning that you wouldn’t destroy Nineveh. That’s why I left my own country and headed for Spain. You are a kind and merciful God, and you are very patient. You always show love, and you don’t like to punish anyone.
Now let me die! I’d be better off dead.
The Lord replied, “What right do you have to be angry?”
Jonah then left through the east gate of the city and made a shelter to protect himself from the sun. He sat under the shelter, waiting to see what would happen to Nineveh.
The Lord made a vine grow up to shade Jonah’s head and protect him from the sun. Jonah was very happy to have the vine, but early the next morning the Lord sent a worm to chew on the vine, and the vine dried up. During the day the Lord sent a scorching wind, and the sun beat down on Jonah’s head, making him feel faint. Jonah was ready to die, and he shouted, “I wish I were dead!”
But the Lord asked, “Jonah, do you have the right to be angry about the vine?”
“Yes, I do,” he answered, “and I’m angry enough to die.”
But the Lord said:
You are concerned about a vine that you did not plant or take care of, a vine that grew up in one night and died the next. In that city of Nineveh there are more than 120,000 people who cannot tell right from wrong, and many cattle are also there. Don’t you think I should be concerned about that big city? (Contemporary English Version)
Fear and anger go hand in hand. The fear of what sort of evil might happen often leads a person toward angry vitriol, even violence.
I once dealt with a woman who was so upset with her husband that she was literally shaking with anger. There was a time when her husband had been abusive, but thankfully, he gave his life to God, changed, and became a loving person.
The thing that was so upsetting for the wife is that God saved her husband without punishing him for all the abuse he had dished out. She wanted some divine payback! The woman was actually furious about God showing grace and compassion.
This is not a novel or new experience. In the ancient world, the Assyrians were notorious for their brutality toward conquered peoples. They thought up forms of torture as a creative past-time. It was a violent culture, full of inhumane practices, and soldiers who were the scourge of the Middle East.
The violent ways of the Assyrians caught the notice of God. Divine judgment was hanging over the capital of the Assyrian Empire, Nineveh. So, God told the prophet Jonah to go and give the powerful empire a message of impending doom. (Jonah 1:2)
Jonah did not immediately obey God. However, he eventually went to Nineveh (after the infamous being in the belly of a great fish for three days and nights). The result was a great repentance of sin from the Assyrian people.
The entire city turned from their evil ways. God saw this mass repentance and relented from sending disaster. Instead of destroying the city, with all its inhabitants and animals, the Lord was merciful and spared them. After all, God delights in seeing humility and the courage to admit evil and turn from it.
But Jonah had a serious problem with God’s grace toward the Assyrians. He was so upset and angry about the whole affair, that he wanted to die. Jonah was actually annoyed and greatly displeased by God’s goodness. Jonah wanted justice; he was looking for judgment. The last thing he wanted was divine mercy toward the very people who were experts at killing Jews.
Yet, we must come to grips with the reality that God’s grace is so massive that it even extends to some of the most evil people in history. And Jonah wanted no part of that sort of theology.
God asked Jonah twice, “Do you have a right to be angry?” Jonah wanted destruction and pay-back for all the sin of the Assyrians. But God searches our hearts and exposes our expectations. Often, when those expectations do not happen, we are disappointed and become angry, even livid over the lack of retribution from God.
God wanted Jonah to share the same heart of mercy. And God still desires God’s people to have a heart that has grace and compassion, even in the face of terrible evil. Sometimes, God calls us to do what we least want to do in order to reveal what is really in our own hearts.
Hating people to the point of wanting nothing but destruction upon them does nothing to bring about the righteous life that God desires. In Christian understandings, the blood of Jesus Christ has the power to bring healing and hope, even to the worst of sinners.
Whenever our fears turn to anger and we believe that God should bomb evil people off the face of the earth… or if we think our neighbors might be harboring ill-intent just because they are of a different race, ethnicity, or religion… or if we harbor bitterness because of real evil present in this world and want at least a little payback; then, we are no better than Jonah.
We end up looking just as ridiculous as Jonah, sitting at the edge of the city, pouting like a little kid.
Let’s grow up and rise above the current rancor that exists in so many places. Be concerned for the billions of people on this earth who need a merciful divine intervention and the grace of repentance that leads to new life.
Pray for your enemies. Do good works for those who oppose you. Gain a bigger for the nations of the world. Remember what is really important in life.
Any fool can rant and rave with anger against another; but the wise and gracious follower of God patiently and carefully prays and acts in ways that brings mercy and grace to others.
Merciful God, your presence of love in this world is truly amazing. Despite the real existence of evil on this earth, your grace cuts through it all and has the last word. Work in my life in such a way that fear is done away with and sinful anger vanishes, to be replaced with the love of Jesus Christ. Amen.