There Are No Small Assingments

Hating Nineveh

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When you get to the real reason why Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh, it is not pretty. He hated the people of Nineveh more than he loved God. He did not hate God. In fact, he loved God ... but not more than he hated Nineveh.
That is a bold statement and when I make it, I know the contradictions.
There was a history. It was enough of a history, intermingled with both good and bad religion to justify Jonah's bitterness in his own mind.
He could even rationalize his hatred as love for God.
The Ninevites had been the conquerors and oppressors of his people. They worshiped false gods. They were enemies of God's people. Therefore, loving God and protecting God's honor required hating them.
Not only did Jonah hate those people and want to see them destroyed, He knew some things about God ... things from which he had directly benefited ... things that caused him conflict.
God was a gracious and merciful God. That was OK when he needed grace and mercy, but not when the Ninevites needed it. Hr was a person of privilege, a citizen of a chosen nation.
They were ... well ... they were something less.
They were "those people."
Never mind that "those people" were people. They had children and emotions as well as the capacity for fear and for regret. They also had the capacity to desire to repent.
Jonah knew that God would not back him up in his relentless pursuit of vengeance. He knew that there was a danger that the Ninevites might repent and that God might forgive.
He also knew that he might be wrong and he was overcome with cognitive dissonance - the annoying sound of opposites at war within our own minds and hearts.
It emerged as anger and the anger turned inward and he said it was better to die than to live.
God confronts him and declares he had a compassion problem. More than that, he has a heart that is not aligned with the heart of God.
Job's heart was corrupted by his hate and bigotry and those were shaped by nationalism, feelings of supremacy, and a sense of righteous privilege, and a misguided moral compass.
The story leaves Jonah sitting on the overlook of the city by a dead bush, confronted, but undecided. It is an unresolved story where God has had the last word and we have to decide how to respond.
That is because we are sitting under our dead bushes, looking over the city where we have misrepresented God as hateful and malicious because something inside of us is hateful and malicious. We have done so knowing how merciful and gracious God has been to us, but being unwilling to allow that for others.
We cling to these notions with a confused righteousness that seeks to defend the honor of God while denying the very nature of God.
We don't want to hear it or admit it, but sometimes we hate people more than we love God.

Jonah 3:10-4:11 (RSV)

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it. But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the LORD and said, "O LORD! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live." And the LORD said, "Is it right for you to be angry?" Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city. The LORD God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, "It is better for me to die than to live." But God said to Jonah, "Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?" And he said, "Yes, angry enough to die." Then the LORD said, "You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?"