3:10 When God saw what they (the Ninevites) did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
4:1 But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry.
4:2 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.
4:3 And now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live."
4:4 And the LORD said, "Is it right for you to be angry?"
When I was in college, there was an instructor who was known as being harsh and unyielding in her methods. She would embarrass lesser students and humiliate them in front of others. Over the years she had a reputation for being a hard-nosed instructor. As a result, let’s just say she had her share of students that hated her.
Then something happened. No one knows what, but she did a complete about face. She was encouraging, supportive, and even – kind. The thing is nobody believed her, except for a handful of students willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. The students that didn’t believe her would mock her behind her back because they were used to thinking of her in the old way.
Jonah had a whole city full of people who he knew to be cruel, even to the point of leading vanquished enemies through the city by hooks through their noses. When God had the prophet, Jonah, preach to the Ninevites to change their ways or God would destroy the whole city – surprise, surprise – they did!
As a prophet, you would think that Jonah would be head over heels with happiness. But instead, Jonah acted like a pouting child and became angry with God for showing mercy to them. Jonah wished he could die rather than have God forgive “those people.”
It’s easy to believe that people who do terrible things deserve to have bad things happen to them in return. It’s only fair. But what if those same people decide to clean up their act and start over again? Shouldn’t others be happy about their change of heart?
Human nature makes us suspicious of turnarounds like this. What’s their angle, we wonder? What are they up to? And then when God shows mercy, compassion, and love to these self-same people, we have a terrible time coming to terms with God’s change of mind.
Even though we, like Jonah, understand that God is the God of grace, mercy, and forgiveness we have a hard time accepting the fact when God does that to those we don’t think deserve it. That’s when God asks us as God did Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry?”
Put another way, if we were the ones who were cruel and heartless to others, but when God came to us and said that we needed to change the way we treated people – or else, wouldn’t we want God to show us mercy, forgiveness, and love? Likewise, we are to be glad when people turn over a new leaf after being terrible to others. Are they any less deserving than we? Too often, we think so.
In the Story of the Lost Sheep, Jesus says to his friends and neighbors (Luke 15:7): “…there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!”
When we think that others are less deserving than we to receive God’s grace, we can do a little reality check to make sure we aren’t being self-righteous rather than grateful for what God continuously does for those who count themselves as children of God.
Yes, these times are trying on every level, but there is no time like the present to extend the love and grace of God to others – even if we don’t think they deserve it.