Read Jonah 4:1-7
1-2 Jonah was furious. He lost his temper. He yelled at God, “God! 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!
3 “So, God, if you won’t kill them, kill me! I’m better off dead!”
4 God said, “What do you have to be angry about?”
5 But Jonah just left. He went out of the city to the east and sat down in a sulk. He put together a makeshift shelter of leafy branches and sat there in the shade to see what would happen to the city. 6 God arranged for a broad-leafed tree to spring up. It grew over Jonah to cool him off and get him out of his angry sulk. Jonah was pleased and enjoyed the shade. Life was looking up.
7-8 But then God sent a worm. By dawn of the next day, the worm had bored into the shade tree and it withered away. The sun came up and God sent a hot, blistering wind from the east. The sun beat down on Jonah’s head and he started to faint. He prayed to die: “I’m better off dead!” (THE MESSAGE)
When we first start reading the book of Jonah we are confronted with a man who seems to be afraid of preaching good news to the big, bad Ninevites. But now towards the end of the book we find there is another reason why Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh and only ended up there after storms at sea and a very large fish.
Jonah was actually afraid that God would in fact show mercy to the pagans. He figured that they deserved punishment not salvation. He was angry that they responded to his message and avoided God’s judgement. Jonah wanted them to be struck by divine thunderbolts. After all, they were wicked pagans.
We may shake our heads sadly at Jonah’s attitudes, but beware the shadows lurking in many of us. We can proclaim grace gracelessly; we can make the good news sound like bad news; we can secretly hope that those who offend us get their just deserts. Our mouths may speak of salvation even as our hearts harbour a wish for judgement.
And of course God will judge the rebellion of humankind. He is no ‘soft touch’. But in the meantime, he offers mercy to all and sundry. He really does want people saved, not condemned—no matter how much they may deserve it. Our task is to point people to mercy. Let God do the judging: he is much better at that than we might be.