A Letter to Jonah
by Robby Higginbottom
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that He had said He would do to them, and He did not do it.
But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that You are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the LORD said, “Do you do well to be angry?”
Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city. Now the LORD God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” And the LORD said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”
Jonah 3:10 - 4:11
Jonah, what if things had gone differently? What if you had gone willingly when the Lord called? What if you hadn’t turned and run in the opposite direction?
What if you had thought differently about the people of Nineveh? Instead of seeing enemies who didn’t share your religion, nationality, or politics, what if you saw people who shared your own flesh and blood? What if you saw sinners—no better or worse than you—hopeless without the same mercy that God Himself had showed you?
What if you had rejoiced when your enemies turned from their evil ways? What if you had shared the angels’ joy over one sinner who repents (Luke 15:10)? What if God’s being “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,” was the greatest news, not just for you and yours, but for “them”? What if you had remembered that, from God’s perspective, we were all “them.”
What if you had been more concerned about the lost than your own comforts? What if countless sinners facing eternal discomfort had moved you more than the loss of your own temporal comfort? What if you had pitied people more than a plant?
Jonah, we’re encouraged by your failings. In the mirror of your life, we see all the ways that we fall short. We have been unhappy missionaries trudging through an unwanted mission, but it doesn’t end there. We have also been encouraged by God’s relentless pursuit, not just of the Ninevites, but of you. God’s grace to you reminds us that He is not finished with us yet, and for some strange reason, He still wants to use us to share the good news of His love with the world.
Jonah, what if? What if you had gone joyfully and loved your enemies and laid down your life for them? What if you had chosen their salvation over your security and rejoiced in their repentance? If you had done that—if we could do that—we wouldn’t need Jesus. And so we thank God for you, Jonah. You have given us the most important reminder: No matter how well we do in responding to God’s call to go, our hope is always in Jesus Christ. When the Father called, He went. When confronted with His enemies, He loved us and gave Himself for us. When the choice was His life or ours, He went to the cross. And now He reigns in power and pours out His Spirit so that we can be His body on earth.
Jonah, we live in the tension between being just like you and being just like Jesus. We want to know what happened after Jonah 4. Did you finally “get it”? Did you discover God’s heart for missions? If we’re honest, we’re tempted to wonder about that and ignore the disconnects in our own lives. Perhaps if we could talk, you would turn the tables on us. Perhaps you would invite us to read this letter again and ask ourselves the same questions.
Maybe you would ask: “Church, by God’s grace, what if you thought about the mission of God differently?”