Let’s tell it to the kids plainly about Jonah. It wasn’t because he was afraid of what they would do to him. We need to tell the kids the truth about Jonah’s story (tastefully) because they will more than likely face similar circumstances.
Truly, who wouldn’t want to hate the Assyrians of which Nineveh was their capital? They were famous war-mongerers:
More than anything they boasted about it. As if unimaginable torture were some sick kind of honor for which they wanted to be remembered.
So yes, when God called Jonah to go preach the gospel to them, you better believe he ran the other way. When the ocean became rough, his response was “Pick me up and throw me into the sea!” He wanted nothing to do with this mission. And it wasn’t because of fear.
But in the belly of the great fish he had second thoughts. He made a beautiful plea of repentance to the Lord and was rescued, only to return home. Because we read that the Lord had to call Jonah “a second time” because he never answered the call the first time. Funny how we forgot those bargains we make in those life-or-death circumstances.
But the second time Jonah went, begrudgingly. And yes, he might have been a little afraid but that wasn’t the reason he dragged his feet on the entire mission. He knew that if he went it might mean one thing–God might actually forgive them. And that’s exactly what happened. Jonah preached. The Assyrians repented. God forgave. Jonah was livid.
“O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live!” (Jonah 4:2-3)
Jonah was bitter because the Assyrians were forgiven. Angry because God was good, even to these wretched, cursed, hated Assyrians. He would rather vomit them out of his mouth than see those hideous Assyrians forgiven of their atrocities.
“I am angry enough to die,” Jonah told the Lord (Jonah 4:9).
But the Lord had a message. For the Assyrians but also for Jonah. And for those later to come.
In life, there might be a time when our spirits are filled with so much bitterness that we don’t want to see God’s mercy granted to the objects of our hate. Or perhaps the reverse is true. Feeling like there have been too many evil things done by us to ever be loved by God. But the truth of this story needs to be told. Because we need to know for ourselves, and for those we must forgive, that God’s goodness cannot be eclipsed by even the most wretched of evil.
“Should I not be concerned?” says the Lord.