CEC Devotions Team
Scripture Reflections @ CEC (4/27/21)
“The Bible is meant to be bread for daily use, not cake for special occasions.”
Scripture & Devotion: Scripture focus: Jonah 4: 1-4
But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee 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, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
But the Lord replied, “Have you any right to be angry?
On anger and the bigger picture
Okay, Jonah, let’s see if we understand you properly. You heard God’s call to go to Nineveh but fled in the opposite direction. A terrible storm endangered the ship on which you attempted to escape, and when it became apparent that your disobedience was the cause, the sailors threw you overboard. A huge fish swallowed you, and after three days in the fish’s belly, God gave you a second chance to obey him and deliver his message to Nineveh. And now you are angry that your mission was a success?
What a bizarre reaction Jonah had when God spared the people of Nineveh from the consequences of their sin! Yet, understood within a cultural context, it is perhaps not so strange after all. Back in Genesis 22:18, God told Abraham that his descendants would fill the earth and that their purpose would be to bless all the nations through their obedience in living according to God’s precepts. But Jonah, like generations of his Israelite predecessors (and others to come after him), forgot this larger picture. The people of Nineveh were Assyrians, gentiles whom Jonah did not believe merited God’s favor but instead deserved whatever devastation was coming to them. When they repented and God had compassion on them, he became angry.
What does Jonah do with his anger? He whines and pouts. He complains to God, saying in effect, “See? This is why I didn’t want to go to Nineveh. I knew that you are a merciful God, so I suspected that something like this would happen. All that great preaching about impending doom, and then it didn’t come to pass. Might as well kill me now.” (I am strangely reminded of a little ditty my mom used in order to laugh me out of a serious pout; she’d cross her arms, frown, and sing, “Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, I’m gonna eat a worm…”)
God’s response to Jonah is astonishing. Instead of an immediate reprimand, God asks Jonah the question, “Have you any right to be angry?” The right to be angry is a peculiar concept to me; I was brought up to believe that anger is never an acceptable response, or at least, not a productive one. Clearly, though, this passage and others in scripture suggest that anger can be either appropriate or inappropriate; Jesus himself experienced righteous anger when he threw the money-changers out of the temple. So then, what was it about Jonah’s anger that was out of line? I believe it was this: at the heart of Jonah’s anger lay self-centeredness.
Jonah was angry because God didn’t work in the way Jonah desired. Instead of being glad that so many people in the great city of Nineveh were spared a horrible fate, he was disappointed and displeased. No doubt it crossed his mind that he might look like a fool since the destruction he had predicted did not come to pass. Jonah’s request for his own death makes it clear that, in his mind, he is the central character here rather than the God of compassion, mercy, and forgiveness.
Sometimes, we are like Jonah. Our human nature may make it hard for us to rejoice at the happiness and good fortune of others. We may feel jealous, even angry, when we think that others receive preference over us, like in the old Smothers Brothers’ routine where Tommy says to Dickie, “Mom always liked you best.” That line, often repeated in their comedy sketches, was funny because most people could identify with having felt the same way.
The next time we feel our blood pressure rising, perhaps we can ask ourselves if we have “a right to be angry” or if there might be something else at work. Psychology tells us that most anger is actually fear directed outward; we fear that whatever we are angry about has the power to diminish us, either in our own eyes or in the eyes of others. In most cases, anger is rooted in anxiety about some kind of perceived threat: loss of respect, esteem, affection, freedom, autonomy, control, etc. We need only to look at the civil unrest that our country has experienced during the past year to recognize the truth of that statement. But, especially in this Lenten season, God reminds us that we need not be slaves to fear or to the anger it causes. He loves us so much that Jesus came to die on the cross and take upon himself the burden of our sins. We can rest assured that each of our lives (and everything God does) has purpose, and that God always has the bigger picture in mind.
We thank you that we can trust You with our purpose - that Your plans and Your purposes in our lives are always the best for us.