Angry with God - a reflection on Jonah 4
A Lent Reflection for Friday, February 24th
By Christina Burrows
Lectionary reading: Psalm 51; Jonah 4:1-11; Romans 1:8-17
Selected passage: Jonah 4:1-11
Jonah 4:1-11 (NIV)
But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. 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.”
4 But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?”
5 Jonah had gone out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. 6 Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. 7 But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.”
9 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.”
10 But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”
Jonah is so angry with God. He shakes his fist in the air. I knew it, Lord!
“I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.”
Wait, what? This is what Jonah is angry about? That God is gracious and compassionate? That’s hilarious!
Jonah had finally, finally! obeyed the Word of the Lord, after running away, getting swallowed by a big fish, and repenting in the belly of the fish. He had agreed to go to Nineveh and had proclaimed a message of repentance to the people, who actually did repent in sackcloth and ashes, to his great amazement and chagrin.
He was amazed because he thought they deserved judgment. And indeed they did. The Ninevites were evil people, sadistic and cruel, the bane of the ancient world.
Think Nazis. Think Khmer Rouge. Think chattel slavery. Who would that be today?
He was amazed because they repented and turned back to the Lord. The Holy Spirit worked a miracle in their hearts, and all the Ninevites, from the greatest of them to the least, from the king to the animals, had repented in sackcloth and ashes.
God loved the undeserving Ninevites so much that in his relentless love, he pursued Jonah, his recalcitrant prophet so that they would have the opportunity to receive God’s immeasurable grace, and to be reconciled with God. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
And now, God is so kind and so patient with Jonah. God gives him an object lesson with the plant, and shows him, “My dear child if you were so concerned about the plant, shouldn’t I be concerned about this great city, these 120,000 people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals.”
How does this passage make you feel?
Do you identify with Jonah, mad at the fact that God responded with mercy over judgment? If so, who in your contemporary world do you think deserves judgment? The Taliban? Human traffickers? Vladimir Putin? Would you rather see them “canceled” than be given a chance to repent? Do you need to ask God to give you his heart of relentless love for that city, for those people, for that person so that you can extend to them the good news of the forgiveness found in Jesus Christ that each one of us sinners has also received?
Or do you need to receive these words of mercy for yourself? “You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” Perhaps you need God’s grace to heal a broken situation in your life today. Will you receive the miracle of God’s relentless love and miraculous grace?
Heavenly Father, fill us with your grace and compassion today. Help us to see ourselves and to see others with your eyes of love. May we, undeserving as we are. breathe in your love and grace. May we also breathe it out to those around us, however undeserving they are. We believe in the redeeming work of your Son Jesus Christ, and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit to bring new life into seemingly impossible situations. Let us be your prophets of love and grace today. Amen.
About the Author
Christina Burrows is a Korean-British spiritual director, pastor, adjunct faculty at North Park Theological Seminary, and intercultural agility coach. She is the author of Relentless Love, a small group Bible study on the book of Jonah. In her spare time, she loves dance parties, visiting art museums, going to concerts, and walking in nature with family and friends. She lives in Sacramento, CA with her pastor husband, two tween girls, and their yellow labrador, Friar Tuck.