Jonah’s terrible, wonderful ending
But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”
“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.”
But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. … And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than 120,000 people … ?”
— Jonah 4:9-11
I don’t like Jonah. In a book with an evil king, pagan sailors and a giant, man-eating fish, he’s still, hands-down, the most unlikable character.
He whines and runs from God — and then refuses to show the mercy to others that God had just shown him.
My main problem with this little book is how it ends. The prophet sits on a hill, overlooking the city of Nineveh, angry that God isn’t raining down judgment on its people. He loses his one comfort, a plant that’s giving him shade, and he tells God he wants to die.
God, as always, gets the last word, and it’s a question: “Shouldn’t I care about these people too?” That’s it — no tidy bow or resolution. Jonah just fades to black with this little question floating in the air.
While I might not like Jonah, I realize that I am more like him than I care to admit. I’m a BUICK, (Brought Up In Church Kid). I’m thankful for that, but I believe it brings with it a different set of temptations than those faced by people who come to Christ as adults. We BUICKs grow up in church buildings, showing up every time the doors are open, serving the Lord’s Supper and performing skits at Vacation Bible School — never indulging in the “fun sins.”
How do we react when we see that this God — the one we’ve spent our whole lives serving — really does love everyone, even the people who haven’t spent their lives like us?
Jonah is a book written to good people. It’s a warning that those of us who are willing to spend our lives serving the Lord can also be the most prone to forget the very nature of the Lord. After years and years of service, we start to forget just how much we need God. We find ourselves, just like Jonah, sitting in our safety zone, looking down on the sinful city — a place desperately in need of God — and complaining when we lose a creature comfort.
The ending of Jonah is frustrating and brilliant. It’s a question that should make us mad and lead us to action. If we want Jonah to have a better ending, we have to be the kind of people who write it ourselves.
Shouldn’t the children of God care about everyone?