"He prayed to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning: for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing." - Jonah 4:2
If Jonah weren't so sad, he would be really funny. Actually, he is pretty funny, and that may be the best way to get into his story, by seeing the sad humor of it all.
For when Jonah said, "I knew you to be a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love," he is biting off each word in white-hot anger. The unspoken is, "You are merciful, forgiving, slow to anger . . . and I don't like it, no, not one bit."
Jonah wanted God to blast the hated Ninevites, to wipe them off the face of the earth. When instead they turned from their evil ways and God forgave them, Jonah let God have it. After telling God off for her graciousness, Jonah said, "That's it. Take my life. I'd rather be dead than have to watch you being merciful."
Like a four-year-old who is so mad that his errant (in his eyes) brother got dessert that he refuses dessert himself. Chocolate sundae melts into a puddle. The only thing is, we can manage that at any age — 24, 44 or 64. By some terrible magic, we too can turn, instantly, at whatever age into a small, angry child who insists that God operate as we think God should, that life conform to our expectations.
Or we can do a Ninevite, do a 180, turn around and let God be God. We can accept life on God's terms, rather than demanding it be on our terms. And we can enjoy that chocolate sundae before it melts.
Sometimes, Holy One, the hardest thing to swallow is our own willful pride. Lower my blood pressure and restore me to my rightful mind. Amen.
Tony Robinson, a United Church of Christ minister, is a speaker, teacher, and writer. He is the author of many books, including What’s Theology Got to Do With It: Convictions, Vitality and the Church. You can read Tony's "Weekly Meditation" and "What's Tony Thinking?" at his website, www.anthonybrobinson.com.