The Four J’s: Jonah the Self-righteous Prophet
This week on The Allender Center Podcast, Dr. Dan Allender concludes “The Four J’s,” a series engaging the sweeping, chaotic, sometimes terrible and sometimes glorious stories of four characters in the Old Testament: Jacob, Joseph, Jeremiah, and Jonah. Dan admits that, though he is sad to see the conclusion of this series (and with it, the summer), it is with some discomfort that he approaches the story of Jonah. “This playful, difficult, profound book is inviting us to a level of honesty of our own failure to forgive, our own hatred and rage against others’ forgiveness, and yet, in many ways, our own self-righteousness as we participate in the delight of our own.”
“Probably more so than any of the other J’s, Jonah’s character cannot be reflected upon without also reflecting on the character of God. That’s obviously true for every human being and all the characters that we’ve looked at this summer, but even more so, Jonah’s life is being described in contrast to the character of God.”
Jonah’s life is being described in contrast to the character of God.
Dan starts with a recommendation of Kevin Youngblood’s text Jonah: God’s Scandalous Mercy, arguing that, though Jonah’s life is often treated as a fantastical children’s story, it is in fact quite sophisticated and packed with layers, allusions, wit, and power, all of which forces us to confront the fact that most of us are supremely uncomfortable with the extent of God’s grace. “Jonah wants to die, because he would prefer to be dead than offer the prospect of forgiveness and reconciliation to this nation of hideous evil.”
Jonah’s self-righteousness, his certainty that those who have harmed him do not deserve forgiveness, is disconcerting in his familiarity. Who do we believe to be beyond the grace of God and excluded from God’s mercy? After Jonah follows the bare minimum of God’s command, he laments when the Ninevites actually respond and repent. “Can we forgive those who have broken our hearts? The degree that we wail at the prospect of their forgiveness really makes light of our own.”
The degree that we wail at the prospect of their forgiveness really makes light of our own.
“The core issue for all of us is: though we appreciate the gifts God gives us from the rescue through the whale and the provision of the plant, when we’re really close to the bone of our own self-righteousness, there’s a sense in which we think that at some level we deserve that grace, but to those who have done us terrible harm, barbaric harm, it becomes impossible to join God in thinking there’s goodness in the extension of his delight and honor and love.”