Quick Jonah re-cap: Jonah gets a call from God to go and preach to the people of Nineveh. Jonah hates those people, so he runs in the opposite direction by means of a boat heading towards Tarshish.
God sends a storm, Jonah convinces the sailors to throw him overboard. God sends a big fish, swallows Jonah up whole. After three days in the belly of the fish, Jonah repents, the fish spits him out, he goes to Nineveh and preaches for three days.
And all the people of Nineveh demonstrate astounding repentance. From the king to the poorest, they repent.
God is pleased. He doesn't destroy the city as he threatened. But Jonah is ticked. He grumps at God:
“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. Now, LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”So you see, Jonah knew God's character. He knew what God was like. But he didn't love God's character. In fact, God's character was in the way of his own preferences and plans. He would have liked to have seen Nineveh blown up. But God's compassionate and gracious and so he relents.
And so Jonah was like a good Southern kid. Raised in the church, knows who God is, knows all about God. But us good southerners don't always love who God is. We can recite the lines but that doesn't always train our hearts and shape the paths of our lives.
Jonah was a southerner, ya'll. He knew about God but he didn't worship and delight in him. Just like plenty of us.
And the hope we have for ourselves is the same hope we have for Jonah. The book of Jonah ends maddeningly incomplete. We don't know what happens to Jonah, if he relents of his grumps or not.
But the only way we could have the book of Jonah is if Jonah himself wrote it. And so our hope is that an older, more mature Jonah himself is writing this years later. He is showing us his mess, warts and all, that we might see ourselves and repent of knowing about God rather than delighting him.
So, my good southern-style friends, I've got an invitation for all ya'll: let's not fall into Jonah's trap of being able to recite truths about God without loving God himself.
And if we find ourselves in that place, let's repent as we think and hope that Jonah might have, and put ourselves fully in the faithful and good hands of the God who is, indeed, gracious and compassionate and rich in mercy...even to stubborn Southerners like us.