Dr. Clyde M. DeLoach,
Retired United Methodist pastor
If I were to ask you to tell me the story of Jonah, I believe that you would tell me something like this. Jonah was a prophet who was called by God to go to the evil city of Nineveh. He was afraid and grabbed a ship to get away. God caused a storm and Jonah was tossed overboard where a big fish swallowed him. Three days later, after repenting, Jonah is thrown up on shore and goes to preach at Nineveh, where he has a huge success.
So, what is the main point of the story?
Most people would say that the point is that you cannot hide from God and he will put you where you need to be. And that would be where you go wrong. The main theme of Jonah is found in chapter four which we often leave out of the story completely.
Jonah does go to Nineveh and has one of the greatest revivals in history. What is his reaction? Let’s look at Jonah 4:1-3: “But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. 2 He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. 3 Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” Jonah is angry that God saved the people; he wanted them all to die.
I have to admit that Jonah’s attitude is not one that you usually see in evangelists. They are most often very pleased when they have a successful revival. If you continue on with Jonah 4, you will see that Jonah puts on one of the most serious pouts in history. He is so very angry that God has the audacity to love the Assyrians enough to save them.
The main theme of Jonah is that God does love all of us, even those people that we find disagreeable. And the Assyrians were among the most disagreeable people in the history of the world. Jonah hated them and wanted no part in saving them. Do we have people that we hate so much that we don’t want them to find God? Do we avoid them and, in essence, run from them as Jonah did? Do we think that they do not deserve our love and concern? Are we willing to turn our backs on them because we want to take care of our own loved ones? When we refuse to love our enemies and do not want to see them find God and happiness, we are no better than Jonah.