In the biblical book of Jonah, God employed a whale of an argument to persuade Jonah that he had to go and preach destruction to the wicked city of Nineveh. So he went and preached, though he did not want to. And when the city heard his message, they repented, crying out to God for mercy. And God heard their cry and decided not to destroy the city.

Jonah was furious, for he despised the people of Nineveh and had wanted God to destroy them. They were Assyrians, a horrible, vicious, warlike people — the “Nazis” of Jonah’s time. So Jonah angrily said to God, “Didn’t I tell you this would happen? I knew if I warned these terrible people, they might repent, and you, being a merciful and forgiving God, would be good to them, which I did not want.”

Jonah was so upset that God had forced him to bring good to his enemies that he begged God, “Just let me die!”

God asked, “Jonah, is it right for you to be so angry?”

Jonah said nothing, but went outside the city and built a shelter where he sat looking at the city, still despising it. When the sun grew hot, God mercifully caused a vine suddenly to sprout up and provide Jonah with wonderfully cool shade. But the next morning God sent a worm to destroy the vine. And Jonah again was furious, and said, “Just let me die.”

God said, “Jonah, are you right to be so angry about the vine?”

“Yes!” Jonah said. “It’s the only good thing I had left. You took away from me the vengeance I wanted. You made me do good to my enemies. Then you even took that vine from me.”

“You pitied the vine?”

“Yes.”

“Well then, Jonah, shouldn’t I pity that great city Nineveh, so full of innocent children — and all its numerous, innocent animals?”

Jonah did not answer, for the question is really addressed to us. Do we ever feel a hatred like Jonah’s? Do we sometimes want to say, “Nuke them all! Bomb them all back into the Stone Age!”

If so, I hope we hear Jonah’s God say, “Are you right to be so angry?” I hope we hear Jesus say, “Love your enemies; do good even to those who mistreat you, for your heavenly Father is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, as your Father is merciful.”

Boswell is intentional interim minister at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Gibson City. Contact him at jamezbozwel@aol.com.

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