Lately, I have been studying the Book of Jonah, and I have learned that it is a book for our time. For today especially.
I'm sure we are all aware of the basics of Jonah's story. The Prophet rebels against God and runs away from his calling only to face a supernatural storm and then be swallowed by a great fish who then deposits him unceremoniously onto dry land so that he can follow through in fulfilling his calling. Jonah does follow through, but with a bad attitude and only half-heartedly. There are worms and winds and plants involved, but the book ultimately ends with Jonah sulking and God speaking.
We know the story. But Why? That has been the driving question for me as I've studied. Why did Jonah run? Why was Jonah still angry in the end?
Here's Why: Jonah placed his identity as an Israelite above his identity as God's representative.
We might be tempted to think at the beginning of the story that Jonah was running away from God's mission and message for the Ninevites out of self-preservation or fear. After all, they are considered one of the first terrorist-states in history and were known for their brutality and immorality at every level of society. It has been pointed out by some that God's plan for Jonah to preach repentance to the Assyrians would be equivalent to sending someone to Berlin in the early 1940s to call Hitler and the Nazi's to repentance with a bullhorn. I think we can all imagine the most likely outcome of that scenario from a self-preservation perspective.
But that wasn't why he ran. He wasn't running from the Assyrians. He was running from God Himself (Jonah 1:3).
He unveils the truth of his motives after he finally fulfills his calling, shares God's message, and then watches the people he hates repent in Jonah 4:1-3:
But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the LORD and said, "O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live."
Jonah's issue was that God would be merciful to his enemies. Here's the truth; then, Jonah was all for God's love and mercy and grace so long as it was expressed to the people he deemed worthy of it. His National Identity had disfigured his ability to see God for who He really was. A God who loves the whole world (John 3:16). Not just Israelites or Americans or Republicans or Democrats or those of us who fall in-between. Rather than serving the God who had made Jonah in His image, Jonah was serving a god who he had formed into an image of his own. Have we done the same in the American church? Have you? Have I?
I need to be reminded of some Biblical truth to help me avoid the grave error of Jonah on a day of vote casting:
Our citizenship is in Heaven (Philippians 3:20), we are sojourners and exiles in this world (1 Peter 2:11), we have no lasting city - but seek a city that is to come (Hebrews 13:14), and we are Jesus' Ambassadors in this life (2 Corinthians 5:20).
Jonah wanted to love people who were palatable and preferable to him. But God loves all. And he makes it clear that the law of His Kingdom is love. If while we were his enemies, He showered us with love (Romans 5:10) - then as His Ambassadors, we are called to love at cost and loss to ourselves beyond our preferences and convictions. Which today may mean that if we primarily identify with a political party and we don't genuinely display Christlike love to everyone on the other side of the aisle, then we are not representing the Kingdom we think we are.
Our nation needs the fragrance of a people who represent eternal truth and show genuine love to all, without qualification or preference. Our culture is literally rioting for this. I pray God doesn't have to prepare any more fish or winds or worms or plants to guide us there. I pray that you and I will learn from Jonah and avoid his tale in our time by representing and identifying with the only King worthy of our loyalty and love above all others.