5Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city. 6Now the Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort.c So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. 7But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. 8When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” 9But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” 10And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”
-Jonah 4 (ESV)
As a teen and young adult, I must admit, I always thought Jonah was quite a doofus. I mean, really, run from God? Where does one run that God will not find you? The idea seems quite ludicrous. Then Jonah doesn't want to obey God and preach to Nineveh, but he whines and wants to die over a shade tree. What a pathetic loser. Definitely not the guy you would imagine being in God's faith hall of fame...now I'm wondering, is he listed in Hebrews in the faith hall of fame? I'm going to go check right now because I'm honestly not sure. Be right back. (cue elevator music.)
Okay I'm back. Nope, as far as I can tell, there's no mention of Jonah in Hebrews 11. Still, there had to be something about Jonah that God found noteworthy to make him a prophet and mouthpiece, right? To be honest, I'm still thinking on that one. My pride would very much like to believe that there is something special and worthy in me of the callings God has on my life and that Jonah would be evidence of that as a truth. But as far as I can tell, that just isn't the case. I'm not sure why God chooses some people to be his mouth piece and passes over others. Sometimes, like with Isaiah in Isaiah 6, we can see someone being chosen simply because they made themselves available. Not so with Jonah. Jonah is a prophet on the run from God. He recognizes who God is, as he says in Jonah 4:2, "for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster." From this statement, we can see Jonah has more than a passing knowledge of who God is. There is some sort of intimacy there between God and Jonah. And yet still, Jonah is running from a merciful, slow to anger, gracious God. Why is that? I can not say for sure, but I have some ideas from my own experience.
The fact of the matter is that ANY man or woman God chooses to use, apart from the Lord Jesus, is a sinner. And I don't mean that philosophically speaking, but as a material fact of my existence. I am a sinner, saved by grace. It is indeed amazing. I think someone wrote a hymn about how amazing it is...seriously, people can look at me on the outside and sometimes I can put on a good show. Sometimes I can't. The desire of my renewed spirit man is to be like Christ, but the truth is I have to engage in a daily, minute by minute battle of crucifixion of my flesh to make that a reality. The Holy Spirit can supernaturally empower me to nail my flesh to a proverbial cross, but often I try to go off on my own and fight the battle all by myself. And everytime I do that, I fail. again. Unfortunately, I forget this truth. Alot. I'm ashamed to say that my flesh wins the battle alot more than I like to admit.
Knowing this, I know that Jonah was a sinner too. And that is how a sinner who KNOWS God can sin and run and hide from an omniscient, omnipresent, benevolent, MERCIFUL creator. Heck, sometimes, when we meditate on that part of his nature, maybe sometimes it's even easier to run from Him cause we know he'll forgive us....we just forget that's not all there is to Him. I doubt Jonah was pondering the scriptures about the God who " judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day." (Psalm 7:11) Obviously, God's anger is righteous and he is not out of control, but still the idea is presented that He will discipline his children, and deal with sin firmly and directly. He hates the sin, not the sinner. It's a little easier to obey sometimes after meditating on a scripture like that, just because you realize God is still God. He may want to be your best friend, but you are most definitely NOT on equal footing in a relationship with the creator of the entire Universe.
So if you've followed my ramblings so far, congratulations. I guess there are two reasons why I'm blogging about Jonah. First, our pastors at church have been preaching from Jonah. So he's been on my mind. But unlike other times when I've heard preachers preach from Jonah, I see myself in Jonah alot lately. And I'm not really digging it. As far as Bible Prophets I Most Admire and Wish To Identify With....well, Jonah is not on that list. I always liked Peter. Sure he denied Christ, but then he had that great comeback and led 3,ooo to Christ on Pentecost. Awesome. And Paul. Sure he stoned Stephen and all, but then he had that whole road to Damascus experience and ministered to all the Gentiles and wrote a whole bunch of the New Testament. Then there's Isaiah. God is on the lookout for a point man, and Isaiah cries out, "SEND ME LORD." How noble is that? But Jonah? yuck. Whiny, fish puked-on Jonah. Not making my top ten. And lately, he's who I identify with the most. And I'm hating every minute of it. But let me present Jonah's case to you.
First off, Nineveh was Israel's enemy. And these guys were Hitler, Nazi kind of bad guys. Probably Jonah spent most of his life wanting God to deliver His own people, Israel and destroy the bad guy Assyrians. And the Israelites were God's chosen people too. So it wasn't exactly a stupid request to make of the Lord. But who does God choose to deliver? Nineveh. That had to hurt. No wonder the poor dude ran. All of this I got from Ken and Adam's teaching at church. So these aren't my revelations. I'm just sharing them.
So we get to Jonah chapter 4, and Jonah gets all worked up about a shade plant. And this is where I really can identify with Jonah. Because that's how I've felt lately. I let myself get tied in knots over our house situation, over all kinds of material things, to the point that I'm like Jonah in ignoring the bigger, more important picture. The truth is, my whole life feels like that shade tree. And I'm tied in knots over it. And God is seeing the big picture and all these people around me who don't know Jesus who will die and go to hell without him and all I can worry about are shade trees. It's not my most glorious spiritual moment, folks, I admit.
Even this pregnancy has felt a little like that. I had ONE WEEK of knowing this baby was growing inside me, that GOD put there and GOD caused to grow, and GOD took away. I had so little to do with any of it, and yet I am so mad and hurt that he took it away from me. I'm not saying a baby is insignificant like a tree in the yard...that's not my point. My point is all of my children, my spouse, every loved one in my life is a GIFT from Him. They're not mine. They're on loan very temporarily. And they all belong to Him. For some unknown reason, He chose to save my life from death of an ectopic pregnancy. Supernaturally, he gave me a dream days before I KNEW I was pregnant that I was dying in my bathroom bleeding to death from an ectopic pregnancy. It was very disturbing, and so when I felt pain, I went to the doctor the next night, not because the pain was so bad, but because I could not shake the concern that dream provoked in me. When they removed the pregnancy, the doctor said I was probably within days of rupturing. I don't believe I would have seen a doctor in time if I had not had that dream. So I believe the Lord saved my life by warning me. I am thankful for this miracle.
At the same time, my heart aches because I wanted a different miracle. I wanted God to save the life growing inside me. I wanted to get to know this precious little one and hold it in my arms and watch him/her grow. It has been a strange thing that God has used me as an instrument to bless others praying with them for pregnancies, but in this for myself my prayers were of no avail. And for reasons I cannot fathom. And what really irks me is it was His right not to. He is Sovereign. I am not. And that is why I find myself feeling more like a Jonah than a Peter or a Paul or even an Isaiah. I know God. I know His nature. Though he slays me, I will hope in him. He is my friend. But he's not a friend like my other friends with whom I'm on equal footing. Friendship with God is about submission. It helps when you know he's loving and gracious and slow to anger, but that doesn't make it easy when He chooses to do things in your life you'd have rather He handled a different way.
I know others around me have suffered through much more painful circumstances than this. But right now, it doesn't seem to help. I'm like Jonah, under the wilting sun, crying out to God to please bring back my shade tree and make it all better, wondering if he would crush my spirit beyond the point of death, as it feels like in this moment.
The one redeeming thing in the whole Jonah story? Well, for all the time, that I've considered Jonah a major loser, God loves him and sticks by Him. So even when he's whining, God is right there listening and teaching and loving. And God calls hims a prophet, and still has a good plan for his life.
I don't get you, God. Even when I want to push you away like Jonah, you keep coming back for more. I don't understand, but I am thankful that you love me that much. I don't understand this pain I'm feeling right now, but I know there seems to be peace nowhere outside your arms, the same one who allowed the pain. It's a strange paradox.