Jonah / chapter 4 (read the chapter)
I really couldn’t think of any one title for this blog that would do justice to this chapter. There are a lot of people who claim that the story of Jonah didn’t actually happen, but the picture of God in this book is far too astounding, far too complex, and far too conciliatory to have been conjured up by the human mind. I mean, if you’re going to fabricate an all-powerful deity who can whip up sudden hurricanes and summon great sea creatures for transport services, why would you have him waste time trying to reason with an arrogant fool? In fact, why have him tolerate insurrection at all?
No, the God we find in the book of Jonah—I am convinced—is the real deal. Yet even to say that is, for me, to once again be awestruck with who He is.
- He is a God who cares for those who can’t or won’t care for themselves.
- He is a God who values and encourages our total honesty.
- He is a God who isn’t angered by anger.
- He is a God who finds inventive ways of teaching us where all our blind spots are.
- He is a God who doesn’t hold grudges.
- He is a God who talks back.
- He is a God who encourages thinking by asking questions.
- He is a God who starts where we are.
- He is a God who follows us.
That last point was the new thing that struck me as I read this well-known chapter again today. I couldn’t shake this feeling of deja vu, the feeling that the whole scenario was somehow familiar. Of course, the story of Jonah itself is familiar to me, but it was something more than that.
And then it hit me.
Not only is Jonah the Old Testament’s gospel; it’s also the Old Testament’s Parable of the Prodigal Son. All the elements are here: the lost who became found, the repentance, the forgiveness, the acceptance, the angry elder brother who stomps away from the party, and—most important—the Father who follows him out into the backyard to reason with him.
The story of Jonah is left unresolved, as is the Parable of the Prodigal Son, but you can’t help but hope that Jonah finally realizes that he needs to repent as much as his younger brothers in Nineveh. And you can’t help but hope that Jonah finally understands that the “far country” can be in the backyard and that the ones who have “always lived at home” don’t necessarily know the Father any better than the ones who have run away.
But if Jonah ever realized these things, it was only because he served a God who was willing to follow him—to follow him when he ran away to Joppa, to follow him into the belly of the fish, to follow him to Nineveh, and to follow him out into the foothills and keep talking to him.
This is our God. He will not give up on us. If we refuse to come to the party, He will follow us. If we insist on holding a grudge, He will reason with us. And if we resist all His invitations to come to Him, He will come to us.
This is the good news about God.
This is the gospel.
* * * * * * * * * *
The generosity of God
displeased Jonah exceedingly
and he slashed with angry prayer
at the graciousness of the Almighty.
“I told You so,” he screamed.
“I knew what You would do,
You dirty Forgiver.
You bless Your enemies
and show kindness to those
who despitefully use You.
I would rather die
than live in a world
with a God like You.
And don’t try to forgive me either.”
And Jonah stalked
to his shaded seat
and waited for God
to come around
to his way of thinking.
And God is still waiting
for a host of Jonahs
in their comfortable houses
to come around
to His way of loving.