I’ve been enjoying spending time with biblical narratives this season. In preparing to get our church exploring the Jonah story (Omni-megashambles audio here) a whole bunch of other stuff has been coming up for me that didn’t fit into the talk about anger; Jonah’s apparent obsession with his own demise, his inability to say yes, and what to do when God seemingly violates his sense of justice. If you’re not familiar with the four short chapters, you may want to refresh yourself here. I’m exploring some of my internal processes here – mostly trying to let God into my unwashed instincts. I apologize if this reads as overly candid or self effacing, Jesus has been active in my healing process so I don’t mind sharing some of my immature instincts as they are going somewhere healthier.
Why does Jonah run from God’s direction? Seemingly Ninvevah, which may have been the largest city in the world at the time, was the seat of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. They were a threat, and would soon invade Jonah’s homeland – the Northern Kingdom of Israel. To go there to get them to repent from their prideful warlike ways was to fail (Jonah dies) or to succeed (a threatening enemy gets wiped out). If the options of following God’s direction are “death or death” you can probably sympathize with fleeing your calling.
In the last chapter, however, Jonah says he fled because he knew God was compassionate and would spare the city (and animals) from destruction. Was he coming up against his ability to take yes for an answer? Would a person or a regional power be so unable to change?
What’s up with Jonah’s death wish? His reaction to God’s compassion at Ninevah’s repentance is kind of shocking. He wants to die. Then there is too much sun on his head and he wants to die. During the storm on the boat, he wanted the sailors to throw him overboard- which could have been a heroic attempt at cleaning up the mess he made, but could have been further avoidance.
I can imagine his heart being hard toward his enemies. It might seem to you like Klingon honor or
something, but to desire suffering (or even death) rather than to see God move the hearts of others into restoration and harmony is pretty tiny. And it totally resonates with the tiny parts of me.
And when God violates my sense of justice I’m not thrilled right away. Loving my enemies (recent post by Rod on the topic) has been hard every time. Even though I may say I want them to repent, my wounds tell me there shouldn’t be reconciliation or harmony again – at least not for a while. I’m talking more about conflict with my intimates with friends but it’s also kind of like that with neighbors and kings and such. My spirituality or process of transformation includes allowing Jesus to hold those wounds with me and to try to move with Jesus who restores harmony.
I’m an ENFJ on the MBTI, and my “J” while not as strong as it used to be in its need for judging/justice still can dominate. I think I know what justice is – and God’s Shalom is often too big for me to fit into my category so I feel the violation. The offender needs to be sorry, change, and then I’ll consider what it might mean for me in the future.
One of the deadliest missteps of people in the church during a dangerous situation is to hold on to the hurt (or anger in Jonah’s case) and avoid participation in the Redemption Project. Our woundedness often provides an unfortunate sense of moral superiority over others. I hear God loud and clear expanding my concern and compassion beyond my own business. At the end of chapter 4, when Jonah is losing his mind over the sun shining on his head again and God says…
“You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 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?”