Lenten Devotional, Day 3: Jonah 4

Read Jonah 4

Jonah, the non-traditional, reluctant prophet.  God calls him to go to Nineveh to prophesy against it, telling them to turn from their evil ways or face destruction.  Most Biblical prophets faithfully bring God's hard word of repentance/judgment to kings and rulers and cities and nations, and are met with harsh resistance and even physical harm.  Jonah lights out, runs away towards Tarshish, as if to hide from the purview of God in a far-off place.  We know the story: a storm; Jonah cast into the violent sea; a giant whale's belly serves as temporary tomb (womb?) for Jonah; darkness, prayer, and repentance; deliverance from the whale; finally, Jonah faithfully answers the call preaching in Nineveh: Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown; the Ninevites believed in God and a fast is proclaimed, the King himself wears sackcloth and sits in dust and even the animals of the city fast; God shows great compassion and mercy and holds back the promised judgment.  Great, awesome!  A display of God's lavish compassion and mercy.  Unlike other stories in the Prophets, Nineveh is the anomalous happy ending, a success story.  The people listen and repent.  Jonah is the most successful prophet ever!  Because of him a city that is so large it takes 3 days to walk through is saved!  His words have made a difference.  Jonah is changing hearts and changing the world!  Living out that mission statement!  More than 120,000 souls were saved, what a revival!  

And yet, in chapter 4 we learn that Jonah is so stuck in his self-absorbed pettiness, that he is unable to celebrate the amazing transformation of an entire city.  How can this be?  It's almost laughable to read that Jonah misses the Glory of God because of his own stubborn tantrum over losing his little tree-shade.  Why did you bring the worm God? Why? It's all laughable until we realize the times in our own lives we have thrown mini-tantrums and have been unable to celebrate God's goodness in the lives of others, blindly clinging to our small ridiculous kingdoms or petty comforts.  Small hearts limit our Kingdom of God vision.  We squirm and scream in our muddy little puddle, when all around us a meadow of green grass welcomes children who are frolicking together with shrill laughter.  We are the elder son in Luke 15 who cannot celebrate when the younger son who was lost is found again.  Jesus, leaves the 99 for the 1 and heaven celebrates when she who is lost is found!  That is the reckless love of God!

Here is the radically good news. Jonah is the 1 after whom God is in hot pursuit.  I believe God cares as recklessly for Jonah's small, hurting heart as he does the great city of Nineveh.  He brings a storm and a whale and a chance revival and a leafy tree and a worm in pursuit of Jonah.  Yes, Jonah repents in the belly of whale, and experiences a change of heart and life direction in the crisis moment.  Many of us have in our lives as well.  But Jesus the great Doctor is performing precision surgery on our hearts.  Our maladies and cancers run much deeper in the tissue, and God's treatment is long-term and intense.  Jonah had a change of heart, but like hives emerging from ancient toxic pennies in the intestine, he winces and his wound smarts at the first whiff of suffering:  I knew it God! See! I knew you were too merciful and too compassionate!  I would rather be dead!  Did he forget the whale, or was there still more uprooting of the core source of his despair and distrust that needed to be done?  

Where are the places in our hearts that we still wince and act up when life throws us a curveball?  In what situations do we throw childlike tantrums because we have not gotten our way? How has God been doing surgery in your soul?  What good thing is God doing that we need to open our eyes to and celebrate?