Most churchgoers have grown up hearing the famous story of Jonah being swallowed by a whale after running from God’s call on his life. Sometimes, we sum up this little prophetic book in short order by assuming that the whole gist is simply that we need to do better obeying God’s call instead of running from it like Jonah. Perhaps, however, we have missed the crucial lesson that reveals to us the very heart of God.
To learn the lesson, we must understand that Jonah, like many of us, had embraced a wonderful call on his life to serve God, but in a crevice of his heart that no one but God could see, there was a darkness—a darkness so deep that Jonah would rather have died than let God into that corner of his life. We see this multiples times (1:12; 4:3; 4:9) as Jonah admits that he would rather die than to love the people that God loves.
You see, Jonah knew in his heart that if He preached repentance to Nineveh, those wicked, godless, murderous people would repent, and God would forgive them. Jonah was all for God’s mercy and forgiveness when it benefited his people, Israel, but as soon as God pointed his sovereign love at the Ninevites, Jonah refused to have any part of God’s mission.
At the end of the book, God asks Jonah a burning question—“Doest thou well to be angry?” This question is meant to prick the heart of every reader, including you and me. Perhaps there is a corner or crevice of your heart that you are hoping God doesn’t touch. Could there be a person to reach, a task to do, or a calling to answer that you know will stretch you and change you in ways that you are not yet willing to change in? This was Jonah.
Jonah’s discovery was that God loved the people that Jonah hated. People that didn’t matter to Jonah mattered to God. You see, the book of Jonah is not about a big fish, a long journey, or even about wicked Nineveh repenting. The book of Jonah is about you and me getting really honest with God and letting him conform our hearts to His heart for people.