Jonah Project 42

Jonah 4:2 

Jonah prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. 

How’s your “snarky-meter” these days? How often do you brandish your snarky sword? When was your last “I told you so” moment with someone? Maybe you are one who avoids “I told you so” comments, but most of us at least have such snarky, whiny thoughts flashing across our minds from time to time. How sweet if feels at times to indulge our snarky nature, and lash out with some snippy retort like Jonah’s statement: “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home?”

The weird thing about Jonah’s snarky words is that they are aimed at God. As long as you are taking pot shots, might as well aim high and far. The sweet thing about such complaints aimed at God is that God, in his infinite compassion, can easily handle them, and completely understands Jonah’s angry, resentful heart. We begin to see the heart of Jonah in chapter four.

In the beginning of the Book of Jonah, we don’t get inside Jonah’s head or heart very much, but merely hear about his actions; his attempt to run away from God, his trip to the port city of Joppa; we see him paying for passage on a ship heading to the far west in Spain, and we hear all about the terrible storm on the sea, which results in Jonah being thrown overboard and swallowed by the great fish.

In Jonah, chapter 2, we begin to hear about Jonah’s heart through the words of his prayer, his cry for help, his distress signal from inside the fish. We get to see Jonah vomited out of the fish onto dry land.

Jonah 3 is more action: first, the word of the LORD coming to Jonah, giving him a second chance. Then, the shortest sermon on record in the Bible. In Hebrew, Jonah uses just five words to tell the people of Nineveh of the coming doom: “Yet 40 days, Nineveh overthrown.” Then we hear of the Miracle of Nineveh, with the whole nation, from poorest to richest, least powerful to most powerful, peasant to king humbling themselves before God, asking for mercy. At the end of Jonah, chapter 3, the Miracle of Nineveh unfolds, as God has compassion upon the hated enemies of Israel, and does not bring upon Nineveh the destruction or judgment he had threatened.

This is what provokes Jonah to complain with his snarky “I told you so” comment in Jonah 4:2, with the added rationalization for his disobedience, “That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish.” We all saw how well that plan worked for you Jonah. Strange thing how snarkiness begets snarkiness. At this point in Jonah’s story, we readers want to splash some cold water in Jonah’s face, shake him by both shoulders, hold up a mirror, and help him see what a pathetic prophet he’s become. Okay, maybe you don’t, but I do. But then Jonah dumps out his motherlode of brilliant theology. He confesses God’s heart. 

Jonah confesses, “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” Jonah speaks the truth about God’s heart, which is also, BTW, the heart of the Book of Jonah. God truly is as Jonah describes: gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love; including towards people we despise, people who are on the opposite side of the divide from us, people we try to avoid.

Inside Jonah’s soul, we witness a wrestling match between “angry, snarky, resentful humanity” and “gracious, compassionate, loving divinity” The rest of the story of Jonah through chapter four, is how this wrestling match gets played out within Jonah’s soul, with the wider implication of how that same battle happens in the heart of humanity.

Thanks be to God that God is slow to anger. May God’s grace, compassion, and abounding love wash over all those whiny, complaining, snarky, scornful, sarcastic, snotty, resentful, irritable places within your soul, that you can overlook or forbear others in those same places within their soul.

Photo by Thomas Robinson.
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