I woke up the other morning with the story of Jonah heavy on my heart and mind. Even though several days have passed, I can’t shake the sense that we’ve been reading Jonah wrong this entire time.
Disclaimer: Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m the one who is reading it wrong. But in case this resonates with anyone else, I want to share my recent revelations about Jonah.
How I’ve Read Jonah
If you asked me to tell the story of Jonah, I’d probably tell you that there was a prophet named Jonah. God called Jonah to go to Nineveh, which is the last place on earth Jonah wanted to go. So distressed by this call, Jonah boarded a ship to go in the opposite direction.
Because of Jonah’s disobedience, God sent a large storm. Jonah knew that if he were thrown over the boat, the storm would stop and the men on the ship would be saved. When they threw him overboard, Jonah was swallowed by a big fish.
Inside the belly of the fish, Jonah had a change of heart. After a few days, the fish spit him onto shore and he went into Nineveh. Even though the people of Nineveh repented of their ways, Jonah went up on a cliff to watch for God’s coming judgment. Jonah was upset that God didn’t destroy Nineveh.
How I’m Reading Jonah Now
But what if we shifted our perspective just a little bit?
God loved the people of Nineveh very much. He wanted them to make better choices and stop hurting each other, but knew someone needed to show them a better way to live. God knew the prophet Jonah was a faithful man, so God asked Jonah to go to Nineveh and warn the people.
Even though Jonah loved God, he feared the people of Nineveh. Jonah did everything he could to outrun God’s call on his life. However, God loved the people of Nineveh enough to send a storm and a giant fish to set Jonah back on the right course.
Jonah finally went and told the people of Nineveh about God. He did it out of a sense of obligation, but the people of Nineveh received his words and repented of their ways. While the people celebrated a newfound life in God, Jonah went to a cliff and sulked.
God loved the people of Nineveh and didn’t destroy them. God also loved Jonah and offered him shade, even though he continued to harbor prejudice against the people he’d just ministered to. God’s love went beyond the boundaries of what God’s prophet was willing to consider.
So what if we’ve been reading Jonah wrong? It’s not necessarily wrong to see ourselves in Jonah’s shoes. When I’ve run from God’s call, Jonah’s story reminds me that following God is important.
But we cannot overlook the fact that God so loved Nineveh that he sent a prophet to show them the way. Even when God’s prophet refused to forgive the people, God forgave them. God renewed them. May we not be this generation’s Jonahs, unwilling to see past our own biases to see the beloved nature of all God’s people.