Taking it In
There is a deep irony in the way Jonah’s request echoes the one Elijah makes in 1 Kings 19:3 when he fled for his life from Queen Jezebel, who swore revenge after the death of her prophets of Baal. He goes a day’s walk into the desert just like Jonah does in 3:4 and sits down under a juniper tree, where he’s ready to throw in the towel, asking God to do what Jezebel was threatening to do: “It is enough: now, O Lord, take away my soul, for I am not better than my fathers” (1 Kings 19:4). But this is the God of Israel we’re talking about and dealing with here. In spectacular fashion, Elijah escapes death and God eventually takes him up into haven in a chariot of fire. Jonah makes the same request perhaps with Elijah in mind and going out on a blaze of fire, and a blaze of anger too. Jonah is thinking of himself way more highly than he ought. Elijah wanted to die because his career as a prophet seemed superfluous. Jonah wanted to die because his career as a prophet was more successful than he wanted it to be and, in his mind, he looks bad now.
Working it Out
When justice is served, it is often good news for those who have been affected. The danger here, though, is that instead of rejoicing at the vindication of the oppressed, we self-righteously identify ourselves as the afflicted and the victimized way too easily, taking pity on ourselves and not on others, so that in our minds God becomes a weapon in our tendency to want to destroy our enemies. In other words, we often put ourselves in God’s place wanting to use God as an instrument for our own thirst for violence, whether physical or otherwise, against other people we don’t like or with whom we disagree. God is the judge of the whole earth and doesn’t abide by our own biases, prejudices, preferences, or dispositions. There is no clearer picture of God’s anger than God turning away from it often and being “slow to anger and abounding in loving-kindness.” This is also then, simultaneously, a clear picture of God’s love, too. Jesus is God eternally repenting of the wrath God spoke of pouring out to those who oppose God and Israel. Jesus is the Jew who is the fulfillment of Israel’s calling to be a blessing to all nations. So here, for Jonah, the issue is whether he can live with this repentance of God. Working this out, we have the same issue. Can we live with God loving those we do not or refuse to? There are many things in our current culture and social climate that can hinder us from growing spiritually and tuning into what God wants for us. Sometimes, like Jonah, we need a fresh glimpse of God’s love that can often become second nature, at least conceptually, to us. As Jonah found out, sometimes God sends us hints here and there to get our attention and kick us in the rear. And then other times God flat out helps move things along hoping we’ll catch up. Whatever the case may be, it’s hardly ever easy. But it is definitely worth it.