Am I Too Comfortable?
I say Jonah, you say __________
My guess is that many of you have inadvertently filled in the blank with WHALE. A chunk of you have said GREAT FISH or some variant. A few of you might have said IMPOSSIBLE. But I’m guessing that no one responded ENTITLED.
God keeps bringing me back to the book of Jonah, and not just because I really want a beach vacation, but because Jonah is a book about what happens when we don’t agree with God.
If you are unfamiliar with the story, Jonah begins, “Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, ‘Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.’ But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.”
When people teach on the book of Jonah, they often point out that Jonah set out to go about as far from Nineveh as possible and that he was choosing to head towards a vacation spot rather than an urban center. Though, the thing that stands out to me is that Jonah is setting out to flee the presence of the LORD.
I wonder, did Jonah know what he was doing? Did he understand how not obeying God’s call can equal fleeing the presence of God? Regardless, we see that God isn’t abandoned quite so easily. God chases Jonah down, and that’s where we get the famous tale of Jonah and the whale. In these narratives, we tend to focus on Jonah 2 and 3 — how Jonah cries out to God, surrenders, answers the call, preaches to Nineveh, and the people repent, and we all celebrate how God pursues, God forgives, and God redeems.
But what about Jonah 4?
When I read Jonah 4, it feels like a slap in the face. Chapter 3 ends with, “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.” We finish chapter 3 and praise God for his grace, and then we turn the page.
“But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry.”
All of a sudden, this story is no longer about God’s grace; it’s about what it means when we seek to flee God’s presence. Jonah didn’t like the call God gave him, so he tried to run away, and now, Jonah is mad because God forgave the Ninevites. He tells God their repentance is why he didn’t want to preach to them in the first place. He did not want them to have the opportunity to repent. And this is where I begin to find the book of Jonah convicting. This is where I am forced to ask myself, who are the people I believe are beyond redemption? Who are the people that I am scared might rock my world if they have a change of heart about God? Who are the people that I think are so different than me that it’s not worth my time, but I know God is inviting me to get to know them so I can introduce them to Jesus?
I find those hard questions to answer.
But, I think Jonah is about more than just asking us to confront our prejudices. I think it’s about fleeing our calling. In Jonah 1, Jonah is fleeing the presence of God, and it is easy to see how God pursues Jonah; how God doesn’t allow Jonah to leave His presence. Nevertheless, in chapter 4, we see that even though God is present, they are not at peace. Jonah is pushing away God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness, and fellowship and instead is wallowing in his anger and entitlement. Jonah is yelling at God because his plant died, and multiple times, Jonah tells God he would rather die than live to witness God’s unmerited favor, so God rebukes him. Jonah wants God to do things on his timetable, in his way, but God disagrees. He challenges Jonah,
“You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”
The book of Jonah ends with this question. It ends with God asking Jonah, why should I be more concerned with your comfort than the salvation of thousands? I sense God is asking that of us as well. He is inviting us to be uncomfortable so people can know God. Will you join me on the journey?