Loving the Unlovable IV

I’m mad as $%#@ and I’m not going to take it anymore!

jonah - loving the unlovable

I’m Mad AS %$#@!

Do you ever get mad? I mean really mad; like screaming, yelling, throwing stuff mad? You look at the situation you are in, realize there is horrid injustice in it (at least from your perspective), and you just, plain, lose it. You get to that threshold, realize there is no going back, and you step over onto the realm of rage, for the moment, your land of no return.

I used to watch people do this in Atlanta traffic. Somebody would cut them off and the horns would go off, the fingers would come out, the hand motions. Yelling, screaming, banging on the steering wheel. Occasionally, someone would even try to get out of the car and walk up to the offending motorist but usually by then, traffic was moving and the person that got out of the car was getting their share of yelling, screaming, and gestures from the people behind them.

I went to church with a guy, Jamie, who told me he was driving down the road one day, minding his own business. He stopped at an intersection and waited for traffic to clear. While he was waiting there, some guy walked up to his window and tapped on the glass. Jamie rolled down his window and asked the guy what he needed. The guy hit him in the face and walked off, no comment, no explanation. He just hit Jamie in the face, got back in his car, and drove away.

We live in an angry world. All you have to do to see it is turn on the news or turn on a computer and get on the internet. Day in, day out, the news is filled with stories that express the anger of the world we live in. I was curious about just how much anger there is the world, so I did what anyone with access does these days: I searched for it on the internet. I just put in the word ‘news’ as a search term to see what news stories came back. Out of the top eleven stories that showed up on my feed, seven had to do with anger (internal violence) and violent acts.

People are angry about politics, angry about government, angry about religion. They are just angry. According to a University Health Services article from the University of California – Berkeley, “Anger is the emotional response that we have to an external or internal event perceived as a threat, a violation or an injustice.” A researcher at the University of Wisconsin writes,

People become angry when they perceive a situation as unpleasant and unfair.  They become even angrier if they think the situation was the fault of someone else, was done intentionally or could have been avoided. 

Apparently, we see a lot of threats, violations, and injustices in the world, because there are a lot of angry people in the world today.

Jonah gets mad

From our story, Jonah feels a bit threatened, violated, and treated unjustly. Today’s reading begins with, “But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry.” From there Jonah goes on to tell God exactly why he is angry,

I knew it—when I was back home, I knew this was going to happen! That’s why I ran off to Tarshish! I knew you were sheer grace and mercy, not easily angered, rich in love, and ready at the drop of a hat to turn your plans of punishment into a program of forgiveness! “So, God, if you won’t kill them, kill me! I’m better off dead!” (Jonah 4:2-3 MSB)

Everything that could be wrong with this situation in Jonah’s eyes, had now come to pass. God’s message through Jonah reached the heart of Nineveh and brought about a result every prophet should hope for—repentance and transformation, change in the lives of those to who stood under judgment. The message succeeded—and Jonah is furious.[1] He would rather die than watch his enemies become fellow followers of God. One theologian says it this way,

In short, the heart of Israel’s understanding of God is set forth here in one brief sentence. Yahweh of Israel is a God who would rather forgive than destroy, who takes pity on all who have need, who is not quick to condemn and when condemning is not quick to act in judgment, and who loyally loves all the creatures and beings created in this world. That God of an absolutely unique compassion and love, which are not achievable by human beings, is the God who has forgiven Nineveh. And Jonah is angry.[2]

Jonah’s tantrum causes God to ask Jonah a question, “What do you have to be angry about?” In his anger and rage, Jonah doesn’t even dignify God with a response; he just wanders off to a hillside overlooking the city and puts together a makeshift sort of shelter and waits to see what will happen to Nineveh.

We have this mindset sometimes, too, don’t we? The idea that we might find common ground with people that we find to be disgusting, horrible, terrible, or just plain wrong makes us sick and angry. For some of us, the idea that we might have to share God with people whose ideas and theology we disagree with is enough to make us want to throw the towel in, or maybe at someone. We ask ourselves, if they are so different, see the world so differently, how can they be right about God? If they are right, does that mean we’re wrong? We too wait to see God destroy ‘our enemies’ and ‘punish the wicked’ for their wickedness. And some Christians are still waiting, believing that everything from viruses to storms to armies marching against one another are really God giving the evildoers a good slap for their disobedience.

Then, as Jonah sits in his little hut, God had a little bush like vine grow up around and over Jonah’s shelter. The hope was that if Jonah was cooled off physically, he might cool off emotionally as well. Jonah enjoyed the shade and coolness it provided. But then, another tragedy. God sent a worm. Overnight the worm burrowed into the bush and destroyed it, leaving it to wither away by the next morning. When the sun rose, God sent a hot, blistering wind from the east. The rays of light beat down on Jonah’s head until he was about to faint. He prayed to God and said, “I’m better off dead!”

At this point, God steps in and says, “What right do you have to get angry about this shade tree?” Jonah replied, “Plenty of right. It’s made me angry enough to die!”[3] Now, Jonah is not only angry at God for letting the Ninevites repent, he is angry because God seems to be punishing him. God’s response?

God said, “What’s this? How is it that you can change your feelings from pleasure to anger overnight about a mere shade tree that you did nothing to get? You neither planted nor watered it. It grew up one night and died the next night. So, why can’t I likewise change what I feel about Nineveh from anger to pleasure, this big city of more than 120,000 childlike people who don’t yet know right from wrong, to say nothing of all the innocent animals?”[4]

In other words, Jonah is more upset about losing a little bush and the shade it gave him that the lost souls that turned to God. Jonah would rather have a plant live and the people die – because the plant was the right kind of plant (it took care of Jonah) and they were the wrong kind of people (the kind that weren’t like him and his countrymen). But God was trying to show Jonah – and by extension the Israelites that returned from the Exile – that anger and revenge and hatred are self-destructive. Throughout the story, Jonah has repeatedly done things to harm himself or put himself in harmful situations rather than bring a message of reconciliation to a people he hated. God was trying to show him and Israel that (1) hate has no place in God’s plan of reconciliation and (2) that plan of reconciliation is for everyone.

We all know what most people regard as the greatest verse of the New Testament but how well do we know what’s after it and how well do we understand it’s meaning? Let’s have a look at it.

This is how much God loved the world [not just a select few that said the right prayers and thought the right thoughts, but the entire world]: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one [there are no bad guys that have to be smitten here] no one need be destroyed; by believing in him [that is living into the Way of Jesus, the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus], anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again [to reconcile or reconnect the world to God]. (John 3:16-17 MSB)

God wants to be reconciled to the world, all the “good people” that were born into the right families and right churches and right countries and all the bad people, the Ninevites of the world that weren’t born into the right families, churches, or countries. God is trying to set things right and we are called to aid in that effort, if not, to at least not get in the way of it. Being ‘in Christ’, as Paul likes to say, means immersing ourselves in the life giving, life affirming Way of Jesus and calling others – regardless of who they are, where they come from, or where they are in their journey of faith – to join us on the journey.

I guess the question is, are we going to be like Jonah and have an exclusivist, God is mine and mine only attitude, or are we going to invite others to walk with us, perceived faults and all, and the Holy Spirit do the work or the Holy Spirit to bring them to maturity in faith?


Achtemeier, Elizabeth. Minor Prophets I. Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group, 1996.

Cary, Philip. Jonah: Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible. Grand Rapids: Brazos/Baker Publishing Group, 2008.

Limburg, James. Hosea-Micah: Interpretation – A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011.

—. Jonah: A Commentary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993.

Sweeney, Marvin A. The Twelve Prophets: Berit Olam – Studies in Hebrew Narrative & Poetry. Edited by David W. Cotter. Vol. 1. 2 vols. Minneapolis, MN: Michael Glazier/The Liturgical Press, 2000.

[1] (Achtemeier 1996, Kindle Loc. 4906)

[2] (Achtemeier 1996, Kindle Loc. 4919)

[3] Both quotes are part of Jonah 4:9

[4] Jonah 4:10-11

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