“Jonah was greatly displeased and became furious. He prayed to the Lord: ‘Please, Lord, isn’t this what I thought while I was still in my own country? That’s why I fled toward Tarshish in the first place. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger, abounding in faithful love, and one who relents from sending disaster. And now, Lord, take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.’” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Have you ever gotten mad about something God did? That’s kind of an odd question, I’ll grant you, but think about it for a minute. Maybe God did something good for someone you deemed undeserving. Perhaps He allowed someone you love to go through a season of suffering or die. It could be that someone else didn’t get what you thought they deserved for something they had done. Whatever it was, there are times in our lives when we get mad at God. Jonah certainly was here. What do we do in these times?
Well, the first thing we do is take some time to honestly evaluate why we’re mad at God. We work to answer the question: Is my anger justified? (Spoiler alert: It’s probably not.) In Jonah’s case it definitely was not.
Why was Jonah mad at God? The short answer is because God acted in a manner consistent with His character. This closing scene of the book is actually really funny. Jonah is complaining about God being exactly the kind of God he thought He was.
I’ve been saying all along our walk through Jonah that he didn’t want the Ninevites to be rescued from the destruction God had planned for them if they didn’t repent. He wanted them to be wiped out. Although historically speaking they were at a low point in terms of their political power, they had been the regional bullies not so long ago and they were still bigger and badder than Israel. And besides, why would he want a thoroughly pagan people to be saved. They were unclean and unworthy of God’s love. Let them be snuffed out.
But that’s not who the God of Israel was. It’s not who He is today either. And Jonah knew it. Jonah knew that if God sent him there to preach to them there was at least a chance they were going to repent. And he knew that if they repented there was no chance God wasn’t going to forgive them and relent from sending the disaster He had planned for them. Jonah didn’t want that to happen and so he ran away from God’s call. Here, as he expresses his anger to God, He essentially accuses God of being…God.
You see, there are a couple of truths about God that play into or otherwise impact the situations where we get angry with Him. First, He is committed to our ability to make meaningful and consequential choices. That is, He is committed to our freedom. He is so committed because this is the pathway for us to be in a loving relationship with Him. This commitment, though, in a world broken by sin, means He allows a great deal of sin to go unpunished in the moment and allows the consequences to play themselves out naturally. This is the true cause of the great majority of the pain and suffering we experience.
That’s personal. What Jonah was dealing with here has to do with the other thing we need to keep in mind about God. Jonah was upset because somebody didn’t get what He thought they deserved. And they didn’t get it because God acted in a manner consistent with His character. Remember: Jonah was upset with God for being God.
Here’s the truth: God always acts in a manner consistent with His character. Always. Perhaps to put that another way, God’s going to be who He is whether we feel like that’s to our advantage or not. He will always be gracious and compassionate. He will always be slow to anger, quick to forgive, and abounding in faithful love. That’s just who He is and it’s not going to change. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like it’s to our benefit (or at least to the benefit of our plans for the world and its people), but sometimes it plays out very much to our benefit.
Our best bet in all of this? Learn to live in light of who He is rather than in spite of it. Jonah got mad at God because He wanted to live in spite of Him. We sometimes do the same thing. As Jesus said to Paul, though, it is hard to kick against the goads. Living in spite of reality (understanding that it is God’s character that defines reality) will only ever lead to pain. Let us live in light of it—in light of Him—and enjoy the fruits that come with such efforts.