Read Jonah 4:1-2 ‘I just knew it!’ hissed Jonah, through clenched, grinding teeth. He had suspected from the start that all this would only serve to allow God to show his clemency. He even quotes Exodus 34:6, for the evidence (v.2)! Jonah doesn’t announce any new truths here, “For Israel has always been the custodian of the world’s spiritual welfare, since Abraham” as Alec Motyer observed.

Yet Jonah is peeved at his missionary success! We can perhaps, sympathise with him.  No wonder Jonah wanted to leave Nineveh to its fate! Judgement would have eliminated the Assyrian threat to Israel. Mercy very possibly only delayed and advanced that danger, over time. Have you ever wanted someone to be ‘Damned to hell’, or been indifferent to their conversion salvation? Then you’re a ‘Jonah’!

Jonah 4:1 sounds an ugly jarring note. Jonah’s anger over Nineveh was as nothing compared to his anger with God. I’ve seen unbelievers and believers burn, or smoulder with such anger for years. Fundamentally, they have a quarrel with the way God runs his world. They are convinced they could do a better job, given the chance. This comes from their sense of superiority to the living God. The man who praised God for the mercy he had personally received in Ch.2: 1-9, now deplores its lavish outpouring on others who don’t deserve it, revealing also his sense of superiority to his fellow-men. Surely, God might ask us also “Have you any right to be angry?” (v.4).

Occasionally our pride surfaces. Pride goes before a fall, since ‘grace’ can trip all of us up sometimes. US Serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, was finally arrested for the heinous crimes of viciously torturing and killing his many victims, even resorting to cannibalism, by butchering, cooking and eating them. He was charged with 11 known murders, but a dozen more were suspected. They found dismembered body parts in his fridge, and hidden under floorboards. He was cold and expressionless throughout the trial, with no remorse shown in the dock. The jury hated him, as did the public. Their reaction was understandable – the  shrill call to ‘FRY HIM!’ But he was found guilty, and sentenced to life imprisonment with no parole. The public outcry was loud and ferocious.

Yet, this was nothing compared to the later reaction that came to the news that broke a few years into his sentence. It became known that Jeffrey Dahmer had started reading the Bible with a Christian visitor to his prison cell, and then devouring Christian books as well. He subsequently converted to a solid faith in Christ, and was baptised by immersion in prison. Observers said the most striking change in him was that, “He has started to smile again!”.

Understandably, sceptics were tempted to ask ‘How do you know this is real, and not just a con-trick to deflect from his crimes?’ The American press believed his claim and simply reacted with the bold headline: ‘WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS OUTRAGE?’ As we pause to take it in, the only answer we can give to that question is of course, ‘GOD IS!’ It was God’s idea to save Jeffrey Dahmer. Something we may all struggle to countenance given the depravity of his crimes. But this has happened to other vile offenders in many similar cases also. Forgiveness was even granted to you! Have any of you got a problem with a God who would do that? 

Jonah definitely did, to the point of becoming suicidal (v.3). He didn’t want to look like a fool, a fake prophet, or a filthy traitor to his people. There are times when we would all rather die than let God have his way. We don’t want to let God be God. And if it must be so, it will be ‘over my dead body!’, as we sometimes express our objections.

Like you, I wish the Book of Jonah ended more happily. Instead, “We have this deeply disturbing and even unsatisfying last chapter”, in the words of Bible commentator, Gordon Keddie. We are ‘back to square one’ with Jonah. But isn’t that where so many of us drift back to, again and again? We become trapped all repeatedly by our hardness, indifference, and possessive grasp upon God’s blessings for ourselves alone. We forget that all we’ve been given by God is intended to be shared with others and freely given away – Gratis! Jonah expected the Ninevites to be squashed like a hideous infestation of cockroaches on God’s kitchen floor in Mesopotamia!  He was riddled with spiritual pride and Jewish exclusivism. He had a ‘mental block’ over God’s grace poured upon ‘the likes of them’!

Dare we pick and choose who we’d have God save and damn? Allow God to reveal your heart to you, and ask him to replace it with his.