Jonah is not my favorite book in the Bible. It's one of the most common stories, one of the first we teach our children, one of the easiest to visualize and understand, and yet, in my opinion, one of the most unfinished.
It took me a long time to figure out what it is that I don't like about the story of Jonah. After many years of reading this book in one sitting, over and over and over again, I realize it is this: the story of Jonah just...stops. Mid-sentence, it seems like. We see the redemption of a wicked town called Nineveh, but what we don't see really is the redemption of Jonah, the prophet. We don't see resolution in his life.
Jonah runs away from God, gets thrown off a ship, is eaten by a fish, washes up in a mix of fish guts and water, goes to Nineveh like he was originally asked, preaches God's mercy and compassion, is upset to see a bunch of unworthy people saved, then pouts under a dead plant with a worm on it. Please don't tell me this is the full evolution of the character of Jonah.
What it more feels like to me is that Jonah either got scared or discouraged in telling his story and for whichever reason, he just stopped.
If he was scared, it was because he was telling too much about himself (in his own eyes). He was revealing more of his heart and his character than he really wanted to. It was scary either because it was too true or because it was too simplified. Maybe he was evolving as a man and didn't want to continue to show his broken side, lest people come to read about the mess he was and believe that was all there was to him. Or maybe the mess is all there was to him and the writing of his story saddened him.
If he was discouraged, it was because he didn't see the value in himself or in his story. Once Nineveh is redeemed, he feels like it's over. That's the thing, after all, that God asked him to do so if he's telling God's story, doesn't it naturally stop there? The prophecy is over; all that's left is the prophet. And who wants to read about the prophet?
I kind of want to know what happens to Jonah. This can't simply be all there is. God gets the last word in this story and while normally, I'm happy to let God have the last word, I'm kind of disappointed. It leaves me hanging on what really happened to the man involved and if we're being honest, I am the man involved. I'm reading this book like I'm the prophet, not the God and not even the Ninevites. I am the man, and when it just sort of ends, I wonder where I go from here. I wonder if God speaks the last word into my story and it just sort of ends and it's nothing.
Jonah was a richer character than his namesake book tells us. He had to be, to have heard the voice of God as a prophet at all. To have been asked to go at all. To have run away from God at all. And every time I read this book, I feel like I'm being robbed of the rest of the story. I want to know what happened to the man.
But it's the same with most of us, right? We're wrapped up in our own stories. We kind of hit the highlights, touch on the big things, tell the bigger stories and when it starts to boil down to who we are, we just sort of stop. Either we're scared that our story is bigger than us, scared that it's smaller than us, scared that we're not living up to who we ought to be in our narrative....or we're discouraged because we can't help but wonder who cares about our story anyway. We're discouraged because we look in the mirror every day and know what kind of man we're not and so what does it matter if we keep telling our stories or not?
That's a shame. I need your story. I need my story. I need our stories. I need to see the finished stories of the ways God works in His people's lives. I need to see the evolution of a man, the way he wrestles with himself and wrestles with his God and wonders about the bigger questions. I need to see him facing his fears, owning his insecurities, growing through his brokenness. I need to see him believing in something bigger than himself, encouraged by his smallness, confident in his creation. I need to see him interacting with himself, engaging his God, living his life. I need to play out what happens to a man. I need to see what happens to you. I need to see what happens to me.
It's not enough to me to see what God is doing with you. I need to see what God is doing in you, whether it's a big thing or a little thing. Because He's doing something in me, too, and I need to believe that matters.
So please, tell the story of you. Tell the story of God in you. Tell the story of you in God. Tell the big things and the little things. Tell the hard things and the raw things and the beautiful things. Don't be afraid; we're all fallen men. Don't be discouraged; it matters. It matters.
Because a withered plant and a fat worm just cannot be the end of the story.