13 June 2006

Jonah and the Church and Me

What’s up with Jonah? The man refused to do what God asked him. He ran the other direction. Yeah. Like that would work. God created this whole thing. He sees everything, but hey, maybe he happened to not be watching that one boat. Oh, there’s Jonah on the way to the docks. He must be on his way to Ninevah. Good one, Jonah. You really slipped the wool over God’s eyes. Snuck in on that boat going the other way. Brilliant. But God showed him amazing grace. He saved Jonah’s life. God brought Jonah back to Himself, restored their relationship, and gave Jonah another chance. He sent a huge storm that put every man’s life on the ship in peril until Jonah threw himself overboard. He’s a dead man. And then the fish swallows him.
By the way – the fish, the really big fish that swallowed Jonah. I grew up with this story. I saw the illustrations in kiddie books. Jonah with his face upturned, a spiritual glow hallowing his pious expression, hands clasped earnestly, barely a puddle of very clean looking water swimming around his knelt knees. Seriously? How did he breathe in there? This big fish lives in the sea, swallowing water and an assortment of sardines and plankton. Mmmm. Appetizing. And Jonah gets caught in it. So now Jonah is swimming around with his nose squeezed between the digestive juiced waters and the lining of the stomach, gasping for the little bit of oxygen that had found its way into this concoction. This is how God kept Jonah alive and restored their relationship.
And Jonah (seemingly) gets it, at least for the moment. He knows he messed up. He repents. He thanks God for saving his life from the storm. For three days he meditates on the goodness of God. He prays a crazy happy praise Psalm. And God forgives him.
Jonah is spit up onto a beach (another pleasant experience, I’m sure), and then goes into Ninevah to tell them about God’s grace, the same grace that he had just experienced. But wait, they are asking for forgiveness. They are repenting. And God wants to forgive them! See, God! Jonah exclaims. This is exactly what I knew would happen! Man! This is why I didn’t want to come! Stupid Ninevites! I knew you would forgive them if they turned to you! Fine! Here’s the deal then. Either kill me or kill them. That’s all I have to say about that.
Is this the Jonah that prayed so earnestly in the belly of the fish?
And then he picks a prime spot and waits for the next Sodom and Gomorrah. Smiling, he can’t wait to see the destruction. These were his enemies, and they would get what they deserved! Wshoo. It was getting hot up there. On cue, a small weed sprouts into a tree large enough to shade Jonah. Yep. God is on his side. Gave him the best seat in the house and comforts to go with it. Here comes the Haagen-Dazs guy now with his ice cream cart. He fell asleep, very pleased with his little plant.
Jonah wakes up the next morning to find a worm had eaten at the roots of the tree. The tree lay next to him. Dead. Withered. WHAT!!! All right, just kill me. I would rather die. (Apparently Jonah had a flare for the dramatics.) God shakes his head in disbelief. You really care this much about this little tree? Did you plant the tree? Did you do anything for that tree? And you’re ready to jump off a cliff at its destruction. I created the Ninevites. I created every man, woman, and child, every personality, every cow, sheep, and goat. Shouldn’t I care about their destruction?
But Jonah was too busy throwing a temper-tantrum.
What’s up with Jonah? Why on earth did he begrudge God’s forgiveness when he himself had experienced it in the face of his rebellion? Why did he care more about hating his enemies than seeing them as fellow creations? Why did he care more about their destruction than in love? Why did he care more about his own comforts than a whole nation? Why did he throw a hissy-fit over his lost luxury and not over the annihilation of a whole people group?
Why does the North American church look more like Jonah than Jesus? Why does she spend more brain cycles on the comfort of its own people than in feeding the hungry? Why is she more concerned with waging war against the enemies than in extending the same forgiveness she was extended, than in sharing the same story she experienced?
And why do I look like this gnarled Jonah?

1 comment:

J Hearne said...

I enjoy the post.

Having recently translated the book of Jonah, I have become fascinated with the book all over again. I am intrigued by the tension between Jonah being forgiven but begrudging the forgiveness of others. Jonah had to be tested to repent but the Ninevites turned from their evil before the judgment.

Could a text produced by Nineveh's enemies really have something so nice to say about Nineveh?

What happens when we juxtapose Jonah with Nahum. What does it tell us about God?