Soon the ship is nearly sinking and that’s when the guilt-ridden Jonah asks to be tossed overboard into God’s storm. Reluctantly they toss him over and suddenly the water stills, while Jonah, sure he’s drowning, suddenly finds himself breathing in a very slimy fermented sort of place he soon confirms to be a fish’s belly. Sure that God can see him now, Jonah prays like never before, gagging on the odors of rotting fish food, no doubt, and soon he’s puked out near shore, alive, well, and filled with a new sense of respect for God. Did I say that Jonah was a prophet? He was. That means that Sweet Dove knew and had agreed that God was his boss. So off Jonah now goes to Nineveh, at his bosses command. Smelling, to be sure, like a fish.*
And Jonah yells at the people of Nineveh. And the people of Nineveh respond to every word and turn a 180 degrees and begin to worship God and behave accordingly. And God, relieved, is able to remove the threat of their self-inflicted implosion. It’s a lovely, “repent and be saved” kind of ending, where those doomed are reached and restored and all are spared. It’s lovely.
But Sweet Dove Jonah does not think so. He’s ticked. He tells God how mad he is. Why? Because he just knew God would forgive and not burn these people to ashes—in fact—that’s why he’d run from the job in the first place—he knew God wouldn’t destroy like he promised, God was way to loving and longsuffering. Jonah hated life after he realized that the whole city was spared, and he had been part of it.
What you have to know at this point in the story is that the Assyrians had harassed, and at times severely dominated, the Israelites for hundreds of years before Jonah went to help them. These people were his personal enemies. No wonder he was angry and disappointed at their repentance. Sweet Dove had a hard heart. He hated his enemies. Unfortunately for Jonah, God is love and his teachings clearly expose all lack of love, even towards enemies as evil. So really, if you think about it, the mission given to this prophet was to save his soul. It was a long, drawn out expedition in which Jonah could realize his hatred, face it, give in to God’s love, and finally, at least acknowledge (hopefully embrace) the love of God.
And here’s where you and I enter. Many of us are on missions to change, save or in some way build up people and places around us. We’re (especially if you work for a church organization like I did for many years) propelled by a call from God to make a difference in the world around us. And that’s what I thought I was up to, changing the world. And now, looking back on my life so far, honestly, was it the world that got changed? Maybe not. It was me. God was after my hard heart most of the time. Using my work and calling to expose my mixed up view and feelings and then propel me to live otherwise and change.
We think we’re saving the world. Really, God is saving us. It’s a lovely thought.
Clarissa Worley Sproul writes from the Pacific Northwest.
*The photo is the Jonah and the whale sculpture near Acre Port, Israel, taken by Kobby Dagan, with Dreamstime Photos.© 2002 - 2020, AnswersForMe.org. All rights reserved. Click here for content usage information.