I like Jonah. A grumpy Old Testament prophet – he was asked by God to speak to his enemy. Jonah didn’t like the idea so he runs (sails) in the opposite direction. God sends a storm and transportation (belly of a fish) back to Nineveh. Jonah preaches a short sermon, the enemy responds, God forgives and Jonah is upset, mostly with God for being so forgiving. I like the messiness of this story. The anger and frustration directed at God is almost comforting. Jonah is 100% human. He helps me to feel less guilty when I get mad at God.
The best part of this story is not “the miracle in the fish” but rather that it is an unfinished story. We are never told what happens to Jonah. Does he turn into a bitter grumpy prophet or does his heart soften? Did Jonah and God make-up?
Like Jonah, we are also unfinished stories. In this there is hope. Tragedy is not a forgone conclusion; triumph is still possible.
Jonah helps us to understand what it means to be a Christian. People who define themselves as Christian must respect the “unfinishedness” of other people. As long as someone is unfinished there is the possibility for the story to end well.
There is a sense in which Christians are called to be eternal optimists. Writing people off as too lost, evil or sinful cannot be a Christian option. Yes, this has political implications. When leaders use “enemy” as a way to define persons or countries they are acting in ways that are anti-Christian.
Jonah closes with a grumpy prophet sitting outside the gates of the city, waiting for God to finally understand that some people are so bad that they are beyond forgiveness. I wonder who won that discussion?