This is about the book of Jonah. If you are not familiar with it, you may find it helpful to read here.
I love Jonah. I think that have a lot in common with Jonah. Obviously not the being eaten up by the big fish bit. We don’t share that experience. I’m supposing you’re the same. If you do think that you have shared that experience, you should write a book, or get interviewed or have a nice lie down in a dark room until the feeling passes.
We also don’t share being an amazing preacher which I assume he was. Well, when he preached an entire nation repented. Practically overnight. Turned on a sixpence. Even the dogs sorted themselves out. (Anyone who has met my dog Morecambe will know that this is something I definitely don’t share with Jonah) Not many can say that they have made entire nations repent, I wouldn’t have thought. We may have heard a few preachers claim that they did this and we may have suspected that it wasn’t entirely correct. Jonah did it though.
Jonah is one of the main “I’m not having that” things that people throw my way about Christianity. They say things like “But Jonah and that whale. Who believes that?” For what its worth, even as a child I wasn’t sure that there was a literal whale, although I have found it a useful rule of thumb in life not to underestimate God. However, it has never really mattered whether there was a literal event or not. I just love Jonah.
He’s all over the place. God tells him to do something, and although we can assume he has the gifts to do it. He ignores the instruction completely and goes in the other direction. We are not even told why he legs it. Fear? Inadequacy? Can’t be bothered? He gets in a boat and the weather happens. When the storm hits, he knows that he is the problem and heroically offers to sacrifice himself to save the others. (I don’t think he had any possible ideas about whales and bellies – would you?) When God saves him, he is repentant and contrite. He does what God asks him to do and is hugely successful. Instead of being chuffed and full of faith and optimism, he gets all ratty. Why should Nineveh get all this forgiveness? He has a go at God for his mercy – despite having been a recipient of it pretty recently. God responds with grace and covers him from the sun. Jonah calms down. God removes the cover. Jonah gets nasty again. God gently reminds him who is boss.
I love the passion of the relationship between God and Jonah. Jonah knows God. He knows exactly who he is. Yet Jonah gives God a hard time, he gets fed up, he accuses God of things that aren’t true, he is irrational. Jonah has a short memory when it comes to God’s goodness. He sees great miracles but prefers to concentrate on how rubbish he feels now. He is upset by other people’s blessings and greedy for his own. He has everything within him to serve God and it seems to be a chore. I don’t know if I identify with any other biblical character more.
You know what else I notice in all this. The character of God. He is patient. He gives out second chances. He heroically saves, knowing that any gratitude will be short lived. He provides shelter then removes it to gently instruct and inform. He reminds Jonah who he is without using fireballs, plagues, pestilences or anything else that might make Jonah permanently regret his stroppiness. It is a story of a man and his God. It shows the chasm in behaviour and the way God reaches out over the chasm. Knowing what I am like, with my unfailing tendency to be a ratbag most of the time. It is very comforting to see how God feels about someone just like me.