Remember the Suspenders Revisited
Last night, I was reading my blog posts from 2016 and came across Remember the Suspenders. This morning, my Bible reading came from the entire Book of Jonah.
I noted the ending verses of chapters 1-3 especially. In each case, God determines the action that would take place.
Now the Lord had arranged for a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was inside the fish for three days and three nights.
Then the Lord ordered the fish to spit Jonah out onto the beach.
When God saw what they had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways, he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened.
That last one rankles Jonah.
So he complained to the Lord about it: “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people.
Hear Jonah's disgust at God's decision-making? Yet, not long before, Jonah experiences that same mercy.
“I cried out to the Lord in my great trouble, and he answered me. I called to you from the land of the dead, and Lord, you heard me!
What is God's response to Jonah this time?
The Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry about this?”
Apparently, Jonah doesn't know what to say because he goes away from the town, builds a shelter, and waits to see what will happen to it.
I find that to be an odd response. Didn't God say He would spare Ninevah? So, what is Jonah waiting to see?
Maybe he is waiting for Ninevah to screw up again. Then, God will show them!
Maybe he isn't waiting at all. He could be pouting because things didn't go the way he thinks they should have gone for Ninevah.
Maybe he is waiting for God to show him what, if anything, this has to do with him. Why did he have to go to Ninevah? He knew they would repent, and God would be merciful. Same old story! So, what's in it for Jonah?
And the Lord God arranged for a leafy plant to grow there, and soon it spread its broad leaves over Jonah’s head, shading him from the sun. This eased his discomfort, and Jonah was very grateful for the plant.
The story could end right there. God provides a happy ending for Jonah. He saves the people of Ninevah, and He comforts Jonah.
But, that isn't the end of the story.
But God also arranged for a worm! The next morning at dawn the worm ate through the stem of the plant so that it withered away.
What is Jonah's response to the sun beating down on his head?
What is God's response?
Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?”
Jonah doesn't hesitate.
“Yes,” Jonah retorted, “even angry enough to die!”
Let Jonah's reaction sink in and take root.
He has suicidal anger over the death of a plant.
"Kill me now," is his answer.
"If Ninevah survives and this plant that comforted me dies, then my life might as well be over."
What a drama king!
And yet, I can't help but wonder, because of God's question,
“Is it right for you to be angry about this?”
...what anger have I allowed to take root in my life?
At first, seemingly justifiable anger appears to be a leafy plant providing comfort when something doesn't go as I have planned. But, then, the hidden worm inches its way inside and eats away at all that might nourish me toward healing. I become nothing but a bitter, withered weed.
So, maybe Jonah has a point. It would be better to die than to live like that.
Yet, here is God's point.
Then the Lord said, “You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly. But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”
I need to let my anger die as quickly as that plant did. Because it only provides a momentary--even a false--comfort. My response should be like God's. Because He has more than once extended that same mercy to me when I did not deserve it.
I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people.
And so the story ends. As far as we the readers know. But, I'd like to think Jonah uprooted his anger that day. I'd like to think his eyes dripped with compassionate tears as he made his way back to the people of Ninevah. I'd like to think he stopped waiting and learned to live.
Going into this new year, what angers you? Do you have a right to be angry about it? Are you trying to control what God has already put into place? Maybe it's time to uproot that wormy plant taking your focus away from those who need your mercy. Let that anger die and shed some compassionate tears. Stop waiting and learn to live!