“Are you right to be angry?”
This question is asked of Jonah twice in Jonah 4. His interrogator is the Lord himself. Jonah’s answer is the same both times:
“Yes! I’m so angry I want to die!”
It all sounds a bit melodramatic, if not downright childish, when we read it in the Bible. But if you let it all sink in, it kind of makes sense.
Jonah is an Israelite, a Jew, a man of God. He’s called by God to go to Nineveh, a city with a harsh reputation, and preach the Gospel. He resists (remember the “great fish” part of the story), but ends up right where he is supposed to be, preaching in Nineveh, for a few days.
Surprisingly, given their history of godlessness, Nineveh repents. They are spared from God’s righteous justice. More than 120,000 residents (large for an ancient city) receive God’s grace. Destruction is withheld, Jonah 3 reveals to us.
Then the very next words, the start of Jonah 4, is that this all seemed wrong to Jonah. He wasn’t happy the people repented, he was ticked. He even told God “I told you so.”
I don’t know if he was jealous, or blinded by prejudice, or afraid, but he pouts to God that this is exactly what he knew would happen. God would spare Nineveh. A harsh truth is revealed:
Jonah didn’t want God to spare Nineveh. He wanted them to die. He wanted them to pay. He wanted vengeance. He wanted to see smoke billowing up from the rubble and mangled body parts lying beneath. This is the reality — Jonah hated Nineveh.
But when we want to overthrow our enemies, God wants to overthrow our hearts.
“Is it right for you to be angry?” God asks Jonah.
But he is asking us the same thing.
When we want to overthrow our enemy, God wants to overthrow our hearts. Because it’s clear that if we are praying for someone else’s destruction, we have kicked Jesus off the throne of our heart and decided to rule in His place.
What foolish rulers we can be.
While Jonah sits depressed east of Nineveh, wishing he would die, God provides a large, leafy plant to give him shade. This provided comfort for the prophet and the Bible says it made him happy. But then a worm comes and kills the plant and Jonah is overheating and grumpy once again. God asks him if it’s right for him to be angry about the plant.
“Yes! I’m so mad I would rather die!”
Interesting, isn’t it? When God’s mercy shaded Jonah, he was happy. When God’s judgment (the worm) took his comforting shade away, he was angry. But when God’s mercy “shaded” Nineveh, Jonah was enraged. Where was their worm of destruction?
The truth for most of us is that grace and mercy sound great when applied to us directly, and they sound awful when applied to our “enemies.”
If you mourn when you face judgment and difficulty and simmer with rage when your enemies are treated with kindness by the Lord, you are acting a lot like Jonah.
Is it right to be angry?