My pastors have been preaching on Jonah, and every single week I leave church thinking, "I am Jonah. I am just like him."
Jonah gets a bad rap because, well, he's an idiot. Just like me.
First, he runs away from God. Dumbass. You can't run away from God, Jonah. You can act like God can't see you, can't hear you, can't find you--but duh! Of course he can. He can find you on the ship to Tarshish when you're supposed to be traveling to Nineveh. He can also find you when you're holed up in your bedroom with an open bottle of wine and a high-def TV. And he can find you when you're just minding your own business, trying to be a good person, but deep down beginning to realize that that's not good enough. (Hello, Roseanne?)
Of course God can find you--and the truly amazing thing is, he's actually coming after you. He'll stir up the sea until your shipmates threaten to throw you overboard. Or he'll allow a different kind of storm in your life--maybe cancer, maybe a sick child, maybe unemployment or a really horrible boss, depression, or a million other storms that, if you're smart, will make you remember that God wants you, or wants you back.
He's waiting for you to look up and say, Um, God? Can I get a hand, here?
He's also waiting for you to remember who and what you are. You are Jonah, the guy God called to do a really important job, like preach to the Ninevites, or raise a child, or be an honest cop, a loving spouse, a generous friend, a talented musician, or a million other callings that, if you're smart, will make you remember that God is the one who gave you that calling and is going to help you follow it.
He's waiting for you to look up and say, God? Thanks. And help, please.
God is also waiting for you to remember that you are not God. You do not get to decide what justice looks like. You do not get to point to other people and say, Smite them, God! They are bad, bad people because they worship idols, or take drugs, or fail to live up to your own exceptionally high standards of housekeeping.
But that's what Jonah did, Reverend Moses Butcher told us today at church. He became annoyed at God because he wanted to see justice done to those sinners of Nineveh--just like I become annoyed at the sinners around me, who don't parent like I think they should, or don't obey me as promptly as I want them to, or have the right opinion about social justice issues.
I am such a Jonah.
Jonah was miserable. "It displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry...Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me for it is better for me to die than to live" (Jonah 4:1, 3). Why was he miserable? Because he was waiting for the fireworks of God's destruction of Nineveh. He wanted Nineveh to pay for their sins; he wanted justice.
But, Reverend Butcher pointed out, Jonah's notion of justice does not look anything like God's justice. God is (thank God!) "a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster" (Jonah 4:2). Jonah wants people to pay for their sin; God wants people to repent, and be brought back into relationship with Him.
Like Jonah, I often want people to pay. I want to hear them say, "I was wrong, I am a worm." I want them to pay if they've wronged me, or someone I love. This is how I often deal with Mr. Peevie, with my kids, with my co-workers--not to mention the stranger who has just cut me off in the street.
But wouldn't it be better if Jonah and I, and all of us, were more like God, slow to anger, and willing to wait and work for reconciliation and redemption? God said to Jonah, "Should I not pity Nineveh?"
I am always telling my kids that retaliation is never the answer. But, boy it sure is an instinctive reaction. On Saturday, a bigger boy was sitting on his bike near M. Peevie, who was minding her own business playing with a skip-ball (one of those ankle-jump-rope things), and as he moved his bike to get past her, he said in a tough-guy voice, "If that thing hits my bike, you're gonna pay."
After a decade of telling my kids, "Retaliation is never the answer," I wanted to get up and knock that little boy right off his bike. This is my instinct--not to gently help him understand that bullying and threatening a smaller person is wrong, but to hurt him for trying to intimidate my baby girl.
I am Jonah. But I want instead to be like Jesus, the literal epitome of God's mercy. That's my prayer.
I picked up the images from Biblical Art on the WWW.