Scripture text: Jonah, Chapter 4
We tend to think of the Bible’s authors as just prophets, preachers, and theologians. But it is easy to forget that they can sometimes be great artists. And sometimes the daring of their artistry takes my breath away.
That happens every time I read the book of Jonah (one of my favorites in all of the Bible). The book is a searing judgment on the all too common tendency of God’s people to put the people they hate outside the circle of God’s love.
Jonah wants to see God bring down fire and brimstone on the Ninevites. After all, they were the ruthless imperialists who snuffed out the national life of Jonah’s own homeland, the northern kingdom of Israel. He is angry that God shows mercy upon Nineveh’s residents and so he goes off and pouts.
The book ends on a question. In fact, it is one of just two books in the Bible that end on a question. (Nahum is the other.) And in the question, God asks Jonah:
And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from the left, and also much cattle?
But the question I ask is: Who really has the last word in the book of Jonah? On a very literal level, one can say God does. The book ends with God’s question. But who must answer that question? Is it not Jonah? And therefore does not Jonah have the last word?
Here’s where the author’s superb artistry comes in. Who in the end will answer for Jonah? Is it not every person listening to the story? I contend it is each one of us who is drawn into the question and asked to make a judgment on God’s action. We learn what we think by how we respond to the question.
What awesome writing! The author tells his story in a way than necessarily engages each one of us personally. We all become a part of the story.
Furthermore the story puts each one of us in the position of being a judge over God. We usually think of God being our judge. And rightly so. But here we are placed in the uncomfortable and possibly unwanted position of being a judge over God.
Unconsciously we do that all the time as we assess the justice of God’s ways in our life and world. (I owe this insight to the story William P. Young tells in his novel The Shack.) The book of Jonah, however, makes us conscious of the presumption that involves.