A few weeks ago at the Crossing we talked about Jonah. I was encouraged to see so many kids there, and while it was difficult to get them to quiet down at times it was a good night overall. We talked about how we split ourselves up into groups and some of the good and bad things about it. In order to talk about this I decided to take the kids on a quick tour of Jonah and his story.
As a kid I remember being told the story of Jonah and the whale as an encouragement to have no fear and follow God whatever he would want me to do because He would make sure things went the way they should. Those are good lessons to be sure, but they have little to do with the story of Jonah.
Jonah's reason for trying to run away from and disobey God's order to warn the Ninevites of their impending doom wasn't motivated by fear of failure or a sense of personal inadequacy. Instead it was motivated by his hatred of the Ninevites. He knew that God would forgive them if they repented and fled because he wanted them to die, not because he himself didn't want to die. I think too often we (including me) don't actually try to see what a particular passage or story is about and instead put our own meaning on top of them. How much of what God has said in Scripture is glossed over and misinterpreted because of our laziness? And how many people do we prop up as heroes that don't belong there?
Jonah was a bitter, angry, hateful, racist man. While some would say such adjectives accurately describe people who currently claim to follow God, paying attention to the story will show it's about God's mercy and forgiveness. Even this so-called vengeful smite-happy Old Testament God was extending grace and mercy. A careful reading of the Old and New Testaments will also show the assumed dichotomy between OT Vengeful/NT Loving doesn't exist.