Jonah is pissed off. After all, he knew this was going to happen. He knew God was gracious and full of compassion. How he knew that the fish slapping people of Nineveh were going to repent and change their ways, I don’t know, but he knew it. He knew that all of his effort to travel to Nineveh to see these people get smote by a rain of fire was going to be for naught. He tried to avoid it, but God wouldn’t let him off the hook. And now, after storms and fish bellies and long a really long walk in the desert, here he sits, overlooking the city of Nineveh, which is very much not being destroyed by the angry hand of God, and Jonah is pissed off.
Of course, Jonah isn’t alone. He is perhaps the archetype of human interaction with God. At one time or another in our lives, God’s grace is going to disappoint us. We’ll be disappointed in other ways, no doubt. Our favorite sports team won’t win the big game. Our friends’ marriage will crash and burn. The child we prayed for will die of cancer. The parish church of our ancestry will close. We’ll be disappointed in those ways often, but they tend to not make us quite as angry as when God’s grace overflows upon those who we’ve determined should be on the outside looking in.
This is, of course, the whole premise behind Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Landowner. “Are you envious because I am generous?” or more literally “Is your eye evil because I am good?” or more to the point of this post “Are you ticked because of my graciousness?” If we’re honest with ourselves, each of us can name plenty of people who we hope are outside of God’s redeeming grace. I don’t want to share heaven with Mark Driscoll or Joel Osteen any more than they want to share it with me, but alas, God loves them even in their bad theology as much as he loves me in mine.
Our disappointment in God’s grace assumes that we deserve it while other don’t, which is, of course, not true. Jonah didn’t deserve God’s grace, he ran and hid instead of following God’s will. The workers hired at 6am didn’t deserve God’s grace, they moaned and groaned at the landowner’s generosity. I don’t deserve God’s grace because I name people who I don’t want to share heaven with in blog posts. And yet, God extends his grace to each of us sinners while also being merciful to the people of Ninveh, the workers hired at 5pm, and any number of people who I cold squabble with theologically. Our disappointment in God’s grace is a reminder that God loves even us. Which, when it comes right down to it, is just as shocking as his decision to spare the people of Nineveh.