Then the Lord said, “You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight. “Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?”
The last chapter in Jonah leaves us wanting more. We want to know how Jonah answered that question. I for one would really like to know where Jonah went from here. All we really know about Jonah is that he did not want God to act in His compassion, that we was rebellious, and apparently loved the plant more than he loved his fellow humans. But, in this story we learn a lot about God. We can clearly see that God is gracious and compassionate with all of His creation.
In this final question to Jonah God also says a lot about Himself. Jonah looked at the city of Nineveh as evil. He looked at this city and these people as a threat, someone that needed to be destroyed so his way of life could be preserved. Jonah put limits on the very same gracious compassion that God had just showed him (an underserving, rebellious prophet). But, God didn’t see a rebellious prophet or an evil city full of His enemies. God saw a man who was struggling with God’s grace and who needed to be saved. He saw a city full of people who were lost and needed some direction to find their way. In both cases, they were His creation, whom He loved dearly.
God moved in His compassion way more than He moves in His anger. Praise God for that! We understand Jesus to be God’s revelation of Himself to us – God in the flesh, the Word coming to life and living with us. Jesus didn’t come out of God’s anger and Jesus didn’t reveal God’s anger to us. Jesus came out of God’s compassion and came to show us just how much God loves us. He came to reveal God’s grace and compassion.
Jonah had things wrong. In his self-righteousness he cared more for the plant than he did for the people. When we allow our own self preservation to take over and when we are moved by our anger we will put limits on God’s compassion and limits on the compassion we show. Which leaves us with the same question to answer – do we want God to be compassionate or not?
Pastor Matt Huff leads Portland Central Nazarene Church. He loves being in ministry and seeing lives transformed by the power of Christ.