If you went to church as a kid, you’d be fairly familiar with the story of Jonah. Yet, beyond the red herring of a big fish, there is a remarkable story of a God who loves an irreligious city and a religious prophet’s disdain for it.
The prophet Jonah makes many mistakes. He seems much more concerned over his own security than a city of spiritually lost people. His attitude to God is far from perfect. He flees God’s mission for him and disobeys God’s word, only to end up going anyway (and then regretting it).
A careful study of this book will challenge our own attitudes towards mission and evangelism, help us consider our obedience to God and may even confront us on our own cultural blindspots. I wonder which people or groups we would like God to “save” and which we wish God would “sort out?”
Jonah can shock us with how a staunch believer regards and relates to people who are culturally and religiously different from him. Yet the book is awash with themes to help us do mission to those we may differ from. This is a profound story of God’s love for people outside of the community of believers. It encourages us to love those from other nationalities, backgrounds and even political views. We can gain insight of how to do evangelism in the world, despite the subtle and unavoidable power of idolatry in our lives and hearts.
One of Jonah’s problems was that he wanted a God of his own making, a God who simply smites the bad and blesses the good. Yet, when the real God keeps showing up, Jonah is outraged. He becomes furious and cannot reconcile the mercy of God with his justice, especially for his enemies.
How can God be both merciful and just? We don’t get the answer to this question in the book of Jonah, but later when we read the book of Matthew it tells us that “something greater than Jonah is here” (Matthew 12:41). There is a greater story that shows us God’s supreme justice and mercy, held together at the cross of Jesus Christ. This is the answer to Jonah’s question, the power to break our hearts for the lost and the reason we are sent out into the world to proclaim and serve, even to those radically different to us, even to our enemies.