Since the start of this year I feel like I’ve probably read the book of Jonah a dozen times. I’m not sure what the pull of this old testament book is. Maybe it’s because somewhere in my subconscious I live in fear of being swallowed by a giant whale. For whatever reason, I find myself stumbling over the story of Jonah time and time again.
Now, for anyone who is unaware with this book of the bible here are your key plot points:
- Jonah get’s a word from God to go tell the people of Nineveh they’re messing up big time and God’s unhappy.
- Jonah decides to flee from God’s commands to the place where surely God can’t reach him: the middle of the ocean.
- There’s a big storm and Jonah get’s thrown into the ocean by the others onboard. (Note: Jonah is the one who suggested this.)
- A very large fish (presumably a whale) swallows him.
- Jonah sits in the large fish (or whale) for three days and cries and prays and finally agrees to do what God told him. He is then spat out.
- Jonah reluctantly tells the people of Nineveh that God will destroy the city. This causes all the people in the city, even the king, to change their ways and humble themselves before God.
- God is moved by the people of Nineveh and decides to spare them. Jonah in turn, becomes angry that God didn’t unleash Sodom and Gomorrah part 2.
That is the extremely abridged version and the full book will take you around 12 minutes tops to read. The point I want to get to is this, I believe I keep coming back to Jonah because every time I do, God reveals characteristics of myself through Jonah. Many times I’ve read this book and stopped at the end of chapter 2, but today I decided to read to the end. What struck me wasn’t that the people of Nineveh decided to change their ways and follow God, it was actually Jonah’s attitude towards God’s decision to spare them. I guess I pictured Jonah’s reaction to God’s great mercy on the people of Nineveh to be something like this: “Wow God you could’ve really done a number on them, guess they learned their lesson”, Jonah then gives God a wink and some hand gesture of approval. Instead, Jonah has a full on grown-man-tantrum.
2 He 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 3 Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.
He basically tells God, this is why he didn’t want to go there in the first place and because he told those people one thing and it didn’t happen he’s now embarrassed and God should just kill him. Wait a minute, what? Dramatic right? Let’s call this mindset that Jonah finds himself in “The Jonah Effect”. What I mean is, I understand that feeling of my ego being shook. The feeling of my reputation as a Christian at risk because I placed bets on God and His promises, promises that I was sure would happen in a certain time frame and they didn’t. I understand that feeling of being fixated on one specific outcome. Case in point just read my whole first post. What shakes me though is God’s response.
4 But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?”
Is it right for you to be angry? Wow, now you know when God asks that question, you have to do some serious self reflecting. I think we all can be Jonah from time to time. We all can get fixated on the way we want things to be, the way we expect something to turn out, the way we want someone to change even. This however, can keep us from seeing the good acts God is doing to the point where we feel God didn’t meet our expectations or even attempt them.
Related Post: The Bigger Picture
We get angry and disillusioned with God because like Jonah we’ve put blinders on to any other outcomes. God is asking us in those moments “Is it right for you to be angry?” Are we missing the good because we only want to see the bad? In Jonah’s case, he was so involved in his own expectations, feelings and definitely his judgments towards the people of Nineveh, that he failed to recognize God’s demonstration of grace, mercy and forgiveness. Jonah didn’t realize that his warning for the city and perhaps temporary discomfort would greatly impact God’s story. I don’t want to be a Jonah blinded by my expectations, discontentment, or judgments. You see after this interaction Jonah seemingly disappears from the bible. There’s no other interactions with God recorded. We read about Jonah in four chapters of the bible and that’s it. I think that too serves as a warning. God will use you as far as your vision of who God is allows you. So the question is, do you have The Jonah Effect?