Monday, November 11, 2019

An Angry Prophet

The story of Jonah ends in a rather weird way, with the prophet sulking under a withered plant because God poured out His mercy on a repentant people. Remember, God picked Jonah as a prophet; He saw something prophet-like about the young man. And yet...

It's hard to make sense of. Here is this guy who knows God and believes in Him, who is confident about the character of God. We know that because when God tries to send him to Nineveh in the first place, Jonah says, "No way, God. I know You. I know that You're just going to send me there and get all those wicked people to turn around so You can love them." 

He's not wrong. And yet...

And yet, he seems to have something against God being who He knows God to be. He doesn't want God to act mercifully on these people, although I'm sure he expects God to act mercifully toward him...and we even see him thankful for God's mercy, as we looked at on Friday. 

It could be that it's just a simple case of us vs. them, of wanting God's blessing all to yourself, of not wanting to share the good news with someone you don't think deserves it. Those Ninevites? They're wicked. They don't deserve mercy. They don't deserve the chance to turn around and live better lives. If they deserved it, they'd already have it, and they don't, so no dice. Maybe Jonah just wants God to stay with the people of God and let all the others fall away. After all, national rivalries were pretty big in the Old Testament, and we weren't hearing a lot of that Jesus-y "love your enemies" stuff yet (or were we?). 

Still, you have to wonder just what it is that makes Jonah so very angry when God does just what Jonah knew all along that God would do and rains down mercy on this repentant people. It's not just hurt feelings, kicking his toes in the sand or that sort of thing. It's not resignation. It's indignation; Jonah is hot over this. He's infuriated! 

I wonder if part of it isn't that when God made Nineveh right, He made Jonah wrong. 

He sent Jonah to proclaim His judgment on this people, to tell them all of the harsh things God was going to do to them because of their wicked ways. To call them sinners to their faces and condemn them, in no uncertain terms. That's the message that we see Jonah take. "God's going to destroy you. You're all about to die. And you deserve it. Sinners." 

Then, of course, God doesn't destroy them. They don't die. Yes, it's because they repented and changed their ways and gave themselves over to His mercy, but at this point, doesn't Jonah start to look something like a false prophet? If you repent and are spared before you even feel the heat of the fire, was it ever burning at all? Is Jonah truly a messenger of the Lord...or just some crazy guy who wandered through town one day? 

In other words, is Jonah's beef really just that God made him look like a fool? 

If so, there are a lot of us who have that beef. Or who could have it. Actually, there are a lot of us who have Jonah's whole story because we're afraid of this very thing. God is going to make us look like a fool, so whatever direction He tells us to go, we'll hop on a ship and head out to sea in some other direction. And then, if we turn back, it happens anyway and here we are, a fool. A moron. Someone who's naive. Who doesn't understand the way this world works. Who goes off spouting nonsense about God and love and grace and goodness without...what's that word?...perspective.

Oh, yes, I've had that moment. And to be honest with you, I've had that anger. I have had that absolute fury that just by doing what God told me to do, He's made me a fool. In front of everybody. 

But you know what? Every time I've had that moment, I find that if I can just push through it, just a little bit, and hold onto what I know about God - all the good, beautiful, gracious things that I know about this God who loves me and who I love - I come to the same conclusion every time:

I'll be a fool for Him. 

It's okay. It's absolutely okay. Every time I sit down and think about it, every time I question whether something makes sense, every time I wonder how something's going to work out, I decide that if whatever God's getting me to do makes me a fool, then so be it. I'll be a fool for Him. 

How about you? Will you be a fool for God? 

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