Jonah said, “Yes, my anger is good – even to the point of death!” – Jonah 4:9 (CEB)
This week I have been at the Great Escape – a middle school church camp on steroids. As always, it has been a great week. This year, one of the speakers focused on the book of Jonah. I love the story of Jonah. Not so much because of the big fish, but because of the humanity of this prophet and the story of God’s mercy.
Jonah chooses his hate for the Ninevehites over his love for God – even to the point of death. The Bible talks a lot about being faithful even to death, but Jonah is UNfaithful to the point of death. He’s sort of a reverse martyr.
Jonah recognizes god’s grace when he prays in the whale, but he never says “Thank you” or “I was wrong.” Sure he goes to Nineveh when the whale vomits him up on shore, but he doesn’t do it with a grateful and joyful heart.
We know that Jonah goes to Nineveh, preaches a word of accountability and repentance and the Ninevehites respond. God has mercy on this pagan people who, in a moment of spiritual clarity, comprehend the gravity of their sin and the sovereignty of the One True God.
And Jonah is angry.
Even after he sees their acts of repentance, Jonah still holds out hope that God will hate his enemy as much as he does. In the part of the story that most of us haven’t read (unless you’ve watched the Veggie Tale), we witness the extent of Jonah’s hate and anger. Jonah camps out in a spot overlooking the city waiting and hoping for God to rain down fire and brimstone. But God doesn’t do this.
And Jonah is angry.
Jonah’s hate for the Ninevehites exceeds his love for God. And this hate finally extends itself to anger with God. Jonah is angry that God is compassionate and merciful to those whom Jonah doesn’t like. And this isn’t just a difference of opinion – Jonah is angry about something at the core of God’s character.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. – Matthew 5:43-48 (NIV)
This week at camp, I’ve been blessed to see kids I love hear and receive the Good News of God’s grace. Even for the kid or two that may really annoy me, I cannot begrudge them the experience of meeting Jesus in a new way this week. It’s just too beautiful.
But would I feel differently if God called me to be a counselor with a group of people I don’t like? Would I be as excited to call people who have committed abhorrent crimes my beloved brother and sister in Christ? Maybe Jesus had Jonah in mind when he called us to love and pray for our enemies.
When God calls me to a task or person I find distasteful, do I love my hate or God more?
I guess we’re all sort of reverse martyrs in a way. For those who don’t believe, they hold onto their unfaithfulness until death. But even for those of us who call ourselves disciples of Christ, sons and daughters of God, there are things we hold onto in stubbornness – loving them more than we love God.
I realize again this week how central God’s faithfulness and God’s sovereignty are to my personal faith. I love these truths about God when they are in my favor. When I surrender myself to God and accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, I’m called to love these truths about God. Period. I am also called to be obedient to these truths.
Reading Jonah again this week has challenged me to examine myself and what I am willing to be faithful to – even to the point of death. It’s one thing to love and pray for enemies at a safe distance. It’s another to obediently – and joyfully – go to them and love them like Jesus.
Maybe Jonah was a failed prophet. He didn’t love the people God loved and didn’t speak the Word God gave him to speak. We don’t know what happened to him after this. Jonah’s story ends with this statement from God:
But the LORD said, “You ‘pitied’ the shrub, for which you didn’t work and which you didn’t raise; it grew in a night and perished in a night. Yet for my part, can’t I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are than oe hundred twenty thousand people who can’t tell their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”
We don’t have Jonah’s response. Maybe that’s because God is leaving us with this question as well. And I think in that, God is giving both Jonah – and us – another chance to faithfulness. If God’s mercy can extend even to Nineveh, then it’s not out of our reach either. God’s Word to Nineveh continues to be a Word to us. And it may begin with the simple question: Is our anger good?Faithful and merciful God, I give thanks for who you are. I am thankful that you forgive me and hold me close. Illuminate my heart to see where I choose to hate rather than love. Teach me how to go to those I would rather not and welcome them in the same way Christ has welcomed me. Forgive me when I choose to love my hate and anger more than I love you. And when I confess and repent, please call me again to go where you would send me. Amen.