But it greatly displeased Jonah, and he became angry. (Jonah 4:1)
Jonah had been sent by God to preach to the people of Nineveh, to tell them to repent. God had said to him, “Arise, go to Nineveh, the great city, and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.” Yet Jonah did not want to go, and started off in the exact opposite direction.
You know the rest of the story. By the time Jonah actually got to Nineveh, he had been on a ship on a storm-tossed sea, thrown into the sea by his fellow passengers, swallowed by a whale, spent 3 days in the belly of the whale, and then vomited onto the beach.
At that point, Jonah had had all he could take, and though he still didn’t want to go to Nineveh, he knew God was a very creative God, and he didn’t want to know what his next ordeal would entail if he continued to avoid his mission. So he went, and preached to Nineveh.
Then Jonah began to go through the city one day’s walk; and he cried out and said, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them. (Jonah 3:4-5)
This was a textbook repentence. From the description, it doesn’t sound like Jonah needed to do much. He simply went one day’s walk through the city and told them to repent, and they all began to turn from their ways, even the king. Jonah should have been elated. Jeremiah and Elijah should have had it so good.
But Jonah was more than annoyed. He was irate. He had just been through his own personal hell and back, and they turn and repent, just like that? And God was going to let them get off that easy? Couldn’t God just throw a little fire and brimstone down on them for good measure? They deserved it! Why did he have to go through a virtual horror flick and they got off?
I can so relate to Jonah. I was married for 25 years, and when we first married, we went to church together. We actually met in a church singles group. But as the years went by, my ex-husband became less and less interested in church. He began to have more and more excuses not to go. It didn’t matter that I nearly begged him. As our marriage deteriorated, and we so desperately needed the fellowship of the church members, and the word of God from the pulpit, I went alone. I remember sitting and listening to so many sermons in which the pastor spoke about marriage, and how wives should treat husbands, and husbands should treat wives. But of course, he wasn’t there to hear it. The words fell like confetti onto the floor.
It was only months after I moved out that he told me he began attending church regularly. Now that the divorce is final, and it’s been more than a year, I spoke to him yesterday and he talked about his men’s Bible study. It’s the first time since we were married that he’s gone to a men’s Bible study.
I’ll be honest. I feel like Jonah. “What?!” I think to myself. After everything we went through, after all the rejection, hurt and sadness? After all the times I asked him to go? Why now?
I should be rejoicing that God is working in his life. I should be thrilled that perhaps all the things I said about my walk with Jesus may just have taken root. But it’s not easy when we, as Christians, have had to take a hard road to plant seeds in others’ lives, and we feel scarred. Sure, we want them to come to Jesus, but not at extreme cost to ourselves.
But that’s exactly what Jesus did. He took a hard, hard road to bring people to Him. And even when they rejected Him, spit upon Him, flogged Him until his back was a bloody mass of ripped flesh, and drove nails into His hands and feet, He looked down upon them and said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
He had every reason to ask God to do away with them all. The treatment He endured was unjust. Inhumane. And flat-out hideous. But because He did not want any to perish, He endured the cross. He looked beyond the pain into Paradise, and saw all of His children there.
Even Jonah and Gwenn, with bad attitudes. Praise you Lord.