The 1st readings the past few days have been from the book of Jonah. It is one of the shortest books of the Bible, only a couple pages, and most children could probably tell the story of Jonah and the whale. What makes the story more interesting as an adult, however, is Jonah’s relationship with Yahweh which I think we can all relate to.
Yahweh tells Jonah to go to Ninevah to warn them of the consequences of their wickedness and Jonah promptly runs away. How often do we do that? We hear God calling us, either loudly or softly, to go and do something and we try to hide. We have free will, of course. We can actually refuse to do what God asks, but God has free will also. God can certainly keep pursuing us, gently or not so gently pushing us to do what he wants.
Jonah gets himself passage on a boat going a different direction. It was a good plan, except that God sends a big hurricane. The sailors draw lots to find out who is to blame for bringing this bad luck and they all point to Jonah. He tells the sailors to throw him overboard. They do so, and Jonah promptly gets swallowed by the aforementioned whale. At which point, Jonah starts praying. Like many of us, we may run from God when he is asking for something from us, but as soon as times get tough, we are on our knees begging for God’s help. God responds and Jonah is expelled by the fish, apparently no worse for wear.
Now God tells Jonah to go back to Ninevah. After his experience with the fish, Jonah has learned that resistance is pretty futile and he heads on his way. His words to the people of Ninevah are remarkably effective. The people repent of their evil ways. God saw this, was pleased, and decided not to send his wrath down upon Ninevah after all. One would expect Jonah to be happy about this, but he’s not. He’s upset. He figures that now his words have rung hollow. He says to Yahweh, “Please, Yahweh, isn’t this what I said would happen when I was still in my own country? That was why I first tried to flee to Tarshish, since I knew you were a tender, compassionate God, slow to anger, rich in faithful love, who relents about inflicting disaster.” (Jonah 4:2) He basically tells God, “I told you so!”
But God has one more lesson in store for Jonah (and for us as well). Jonah sits down to see what is going to happen to Ninevah and Yahweh allows a large plant to grow to provide Jonah shade and help him feel better. Jonah is thrilled with his plant. The next day, however, Yahweh decides to have a worm eat the plant causing it to whither. Then he sends a “scorching east wind” and the sun beats down on Jonah to the point that he begs Yahweh for death. Yahweh asks Jonah if he has any right to be angry. He answers, “Of course I do!” Yahweh then points out to him that he cares about the plant which he had really nothing to do with, how much more should Yahweh care about the people he had created.
God does indeed care about all of us with a love we can barely comprehend. He is always ready to forgive us. Like Jonah, we may get angry at God sometimes and not understand what He allows, but God always has our best interests at heart.