This post was written in July of 2017.
Everyone knows the age-old story of Jonah and the Whale (or “Big Fish”). There’s even a VeggieTales movie about it. (And it’s probably the only book to movie adaption that is both longer and more detailed than the book.)
For those of you not raised in the church, Jonah was a prophet (oooh, oooh) of God. One day, God told Jonah to go to Nineveh and tell the people to repent. Now Jonah knew that the Ninevites were some terribly cruel people. According to VeggieTales, they slapped people with fishes. But according to history, they were the severed-heads-on-sticks kind of people and torture professionals. So it’s understandable that Jonah would run the other way and say “No way, Jose, I’m not going there.” So Jonah gets on a boat and tries to run from God, but God causes a storm, which leads to Jonah getting thrown overboard and getting swallowed by a big fish. Inside the fish, Jonah repents and decides he will listen to God and go to Nineveh. Then the Ninevites turn to God and God doesn’t destroy them after all.
But the story of Jonah is always used to illustrate mercy (second chances!) and compassion (loving others!). However, when I was reading Jonah, I came across a different lesson in the last two verses of the book.
After the Ninevites decided to change their lives around, the entire city fasted. Jonah, however, believed God would punish them anyway, despite their repentance. So he found a place to watch the city get destroyed. God sent a plant to give Jonah shade, but overnight He kills the plant. And Jonah gets angry. So God comes to Jonah and says:
“‘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.’ 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. 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 4:9-11, emphasis added).
This is the end of the book of Jonah. We don’t get to see if Jonah suddenly got it into his head that God wants to save us from our sin and not smite us. We don’t know if God smote Jonah instead. We’re simply left with this rebuke from God. As I stared at the empty space in my Bible where the story should have continued, I realized that all too often, I am like Jonah.
Now granted, I don’t literally sit around waiting for God to destroy my enemies, but I do value things over other people all too often. What we get emotionally caught up in is generally what takes precedent in our life.
When we watch the news, and see that this person was robbed and these people were murdered/assaulted/abused, we are quick to say “that’s sad” but hesitant to actually feel moved by it–if we are actually emotionally moved at all. However, when the china plate breaks, the sweater from our birthday snags, or our word document doesn’t save and now we have to rewrite an entire page, we are so quick to feel devastated. These things are gifts, things we didn’t pay for. They are extra blessings, luxuries, or advancements we could live without. Yet we treasure them to a point that can emotionally drain and upset us.
However, when devastation falls on people we often don’t give much sympathy. After all, bad things have to happen to someone and maybe if that person had just done x, y, or z, that wouldn’t have happened to them.
But God calls Jonah–and us–out on our worthless priorities. Why do we care so much about things that don’t ultimately affect our life? Why do we get so attached to things that cannot love us back? Why do we allow ourselves to be so angry about something we can’t control? And most importantly, why do we let the people around us–God’s children–-hurt and suffer?
After reading Jonah, I had to take a moment to reevaluate my priorities. Is loving my neighbor coming first? Or is something else sneaking its way into my heart?
How much more important are people and their souls than the passing pleasures of this world!
Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Luke 12:24