Anger, Perspective, and Character: The Questions Between Jonah and God

Have you ever been angry?

Everyone can say “yes” to that. What about being deeply, exceedingly angry? So angry it burns you up?

That’s how angry Jonah was after God chose to spare the people of Nineveh. We know this story–God told Jonah to go preach against Nineveh because of its wickedness. Jonah didn’t like that and fled on a ship. God sent a great storm, so great the ship could have sank, but Jonah confessed what he’d done and told the sailors to throw him overboard. They did, the storm stopped, and “The Lord sent a huge fish to swallow Jonah” (Jon. 1:17, NET).

After three days and three nights in the whale, Jonah was ready to do what God told him to and the fish spit him out on land. Jonah went to Nineveh and warned the whole city that it would be overthrown in 40 days. Remarkably, the people listened. They repented with fasting, cries for mercy, and a change in their behavior. God saw this, and responded by not destroying the city.

That’s when Jonah got angry. He went through a huge storm, the whole belly of the fish thing, and shouting a message of destruction only for God not to follow-through? If nothing was going to happen, why bother sending Jonah at all? He certainly hadn’t wanted to come!

In today’s study, we’ll dig into the questions Jonah and God ask each other. I also want us to think about how we might have responded in this situation, and how we respond to other things in our own lives that don’t go as we expect. Do we get angry? And if so, are we right to be so very angry?

Background image of parchment paper with a tree, overlaid with text from James 1:19-20, NET version: "Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters! Let every person be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger. For human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness."

So Very Angry

As Jonah looked at Nineveh after the people in the city repent, he noticed God didn’t destroy everyone. “This displeased Jonah terribly and he became very angry” (Jon. 4:1, NET). In Hebrew, it’s literally saying God’s choice to show mercy “was evil to Jonah, a great evil” (NET footnote).  He’s actually so angry that he tells God, “take, I beg you, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live” (Jon. 4:3, WEB). God asks a question in return, and there are two possible ways to translate it:

Yahweh said, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

Jonah 4:4, WEB

The Lord said, “Are you really so very angry?”

Jonah 4:4, NET

“Angry” comes from the Hebrew kharah (H2734 “to burn”). The word before it is yatav (H3190), which either refers to ethical right and wrong or “it may mean ‘well, utterly, thoroughly,’ as an adverb” (NET footnote). Depending how you translate it, God is either asking if Jonah is correct to be so exceedingly angry or He’s questioning Jonah about the depth of his anger. Either way, I think God seems a bit surprised here. Jonah isn’t being reasonable, and God tries to show him that with an illustration.

Background image of parchment paper with mountain image, overlaid with text from Jonah 4:3-4, TLV version: “So please, Adonai, take my soul from me—because better is my death than my life.” Yet Adonai said, “Is it good for you to be so angry?”

The Little Plant

While Jonah was pouting on a hill and watching Nineveh, God made a little plant grow up and provide shade. “Now Jonah was very delighted about the little plant”–a phrase which “ironically mirrors the identical syntax of v. 1: ‘he was angry with great anger'” (NET footnote on Jon. 4:6). When God strikes down the plant the next day, Jonah cries out in renewed rage. Again, we’ll look at this in two translations:

the sun beat on Jonah’s head, so that he fainted, and requested for himself that he might die, and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”

God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the vine?”

He said, “I am right to be angry, even to death.”

Jonah 4:8-9, WEB

So the sun beat down on Jonah’s head, and he grew faint. So he despaired of life and said, “I would rather die than live!”

God said to Jonah, “Are you really so very angry about the little plant?” And he said, “I am as angry as I could possibly be!”

Jonah 4:8-9, NET

That’s a lot of anger. It makes me think of a child throwing a temper tantrum while a bemused parent tries to ask them why they’re so upset. Jonah is just as angry about God not striking down a whole city as he is about losing a little plant that shaded him from the hot sun. He doesn’t even see how comically absurd this is, particularly in light of Jonah’s earlier claim that he knows Yahweh is “a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and abundant in loving kindness”, and you relent of doing harm.” (Jon. 4:3, WEB).

I wonder how often I’m just as blind as Jonah was? Probably more often than I realize. I’m so thankful for God’s patience. Not only did He spare Nineveh when they repented, but He’s also patient with Jonah. Instead of striking him down for questioning God (again) and throwing a tantrum, God just asks him questions and gives him a concrete illustration to try and guide him toward understanding.

Background image of parchment paper with leaves, overlaid with text from Jonah 4:10-11, TLV version: Adonai said, “You have pity on the plant for which you did no labor or make it grow, that appeared overnight and perished overnight. So shouldn’t I have pity on Nineveh—the great city that has in it more than 120,000 people who don’t know their right hand from their left—as well as many animals?”

God’s Final Question

The book of Jonah ends with a question. The verses we’re about to look at are the last ones in the book. God asks a question, and there’s no record of Jonah’s answer. Leaving off his response makes it feel less like a question to Jonah and more like a question to us, the readers.

 Yahweh said, “You have been concerned for the vine, for which you have not labored, neither made it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night. Shouldn’t I be concerned for Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred twenty thousand persons who can’t discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much livestock?”

Jonah 4:10-11, WEB

How many times have you heard someone complain about how “it’s not fair” that God would let people get away with doing terrible things ? Or how many times have we said that ourselves? How often have we gotten irritable and even exceedingly angry about something that should have woken us up to a more accurate perspective on life?

There’s a lot we can sympathize with in Jonah’s story. We live in a world that is not Godly, and it often seems like our preaching to it doesn’t do any good. Jonah felt that way even when the people he delivered God’s message to repented! There’s also a lot we can learn from. We shouldn’t respond to the darkness of our world with Jonah’s first response (running away) or his second (anger and condemnation). We should be like God, who takes a firm stance against sin but also hopes for repentance and is eager to show mercy.

God’s True Character

In the ending dialog for the book of Jonah, Jonah seems so concerned about how God inconvenienced him that He doesn’t even notice God is doing something wonderful. God was showing His true character, much as He did to Moses when He proclaimed His own name (remember: names in Hebrew thought are linked with someone’s reputation and character).

Yahweh descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed Yahweh’s name. Yahweh passed by before him, and proclaimed, “Yahweh! Yahweh, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger, and abundant in loving kindness and truth, keeping loving kindness for thousands, forgiving iniquity and disobedience and sin; and who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the children’s children, on the third and on the fourth generation.”

Exodus 34:5-7, WEB

Jonah actually references this verse at the beginning of his conversation with God (Jon. 4:3), but doesn’t connect the dots as far as we can see. God does eventually take down Nineveh around 612 BC, that’s at least a century after Jonah’s message (Amazing Bible Timeline: “Nineveh Destroyed” and “Jonah and the Whale”). With that longer perspective on history, we can better see how God showed His character in His dealings with Nineveh. He is slow to anger and quick to forgive, but He also won’t leave the guilty unpunished (you can read Nahum to learn more about why Nineveh was eventually destroyed).

Jonah didn’t have that longer-term perspective, but his reaction still wasn’t what it should have been. He knew God’s character; he should have trusted that He was working things out the right way. Perhaps he did learn that in the end. And hopefully, we can read his story and also learn to trust God more fully.

Featured image by Jeff Jacobs from Pixabay

Song Recommendation: “Alive” by Big Daddy Weave

Does God Change His Mind About What He Expects Of Us?

Has God changed His mind about what He expects from people? Some think He has, or should. It’s the 21st century, they say. Those notions of morality are old-fashioned and need an update. Others think the change already happened and God doesn’t expect anything from you under the new covenant. You’re saved by grace and that’s it; no action required.

Neither of these ideas accurately reflects the picture God gives us in scripture. And while the idea of God brushing some rules under the rug can be a nice one if you plan to break those rules, it sets up a chilling precedent. Do you really want to serve a God who will change what’s expected of you or how He defines morality? If we can’t count on God to stay self-consistent we can’t trust Him and we’d have no hope to anchor our souls. Honestly, I find the idea of a God who changes the rules far more upsetting than that of a God who consistently expects certain things of His people.

God Wants You To Live

Thankfully, God reveals Himself in the Bible as reliable and consistent. That doesn’t mean He’s always predictable — He’s far too much for our minds to put Him in neat little boxes. But He will always act according to His character, keep His promises, and uphold His laws. Read more

Writing A “Husband List”

Every girl who wants to be married has dreamed about what he will be like. Many of us have written lists of the traits our ideal man will have. Over the years, we’ve also heard various views on writing husband lists. Some people say you should have a list, so you know what you’re looking for. Others say that having a list makes your focus too narrow and that you’re “limiting God.”

Writing A "Husband List"  |
bg image credit: Anonymous on Flickr

I had a nice long list when I was in my teens, then a short list of “must haves,” and now a more specific idea that’s not written down. Recently, though, a married friend encouraged me to write a new list to pray over. She had a list, and when she was in her 30s she met a man who fit every thing she’d been praying for (right down to the kind of car he drove) and married him 2 weeks after their first meeting (yes, you read that right. They’re still happily married and have two teenage kids). I know other girls who’ve been told their standards were “too high” yet found guys who matched everything on the list they were praying for, and there are also ladies like blogger Lucinda McDowell who prayed for 24 things in a husband, and God gave her 23. Writing a list doesn’t make you “too picky” — it means you have standards, and that’s a good thing.

So I started work on my new list. And I thought perhaps other girls might find it useful to read about how I decided what to include. There are articles out there offering lists of non-negotiables for you to base your list on, but even the essential qualities are going to look a bit different for everyone. For example, if you’re Christian, some form of “He’s a practicing believer” is probably at the top of your list, but what does “practicing believer” mean to you?

Just a quick note … guys can write “wife lists” too, and I suspect that much of what I talk about here might be useful for that as well. Since I’m a girl thinking about a future husband, though, that’s what I’m going to focus on for this post.

Free Writing

I’ll be honest — I actually didn’t start with this step, but I think now I should have. You want your list to reflect the things you feel like you “should want” as well as what you truly desire, and so there’s often a feeling of not being able to ask for “little thing” or mention appearance at all. But if we’re honest, things that might seem shallow at first glance are still there in the back of our minds, which means they do matter on some level. Starting with free writing gives us a chance to put those little dreams on paper without feeling bad about them.

Writing A "Husband List" | marissabaker.wordpress.comGrab a piece of paper and just start writing the first phrases and descriptions that pop into your head when you think about what kind of guy you would like to marry. Think about guys (real and fictional) you’ve had crushes on and list the things about them you found attractive. Think about guys you’ve dated and list things that you liked about them, and the opposite of the reason you broke up with him (i.e., if you’re boyfriend didn’t respect your boundaries, you might add “respects my boundaries”). Think about happily married couples you know and list things you want to see in your own marriage. Write down literally anything that you think of, no matter how unrealistic it sounds.

Now look back over your list. Circle anything that 1: doesn’t have to do with physical appearance and 2: you consider absolutely essential in a relationship. You’re looking for things that have to do with who he is as a person, like “loves God,” “good communicator,” and “we worship together.”

Next, look at the things you haven’t circled yet. Cross-out anything that you know is 1: not essential for you in a relationship (I crossed out “rich singing voice”), 2: only related to physical appearance (such as “taller than me), and/or 3: completely unrealistic. While you’re doing this, you might find that you can replace an unrealistic goal with a related realistic goal. For example, instead of “rich as Mr. Darcy” you might list, “able to provide financially for a family.” I would encourage you to pray about the things you want but know are unrealistic. Sometimes, we use unrealistic expectations to push other people away and shield ourselves from being vulnerable in relationships.

Now you have a sheet of paper with things crossed out, things circled, and a few things that are neither. For now, set this list aside.

Red, Yellow, Green

There’s a book called True Love Dates by Christian relationship counselor Debra Fileta that recommends writing three separate lists, and that’s where we’re going to start. Before you spend any more time writing down the things you want in a relationship, we’re going to write a list of things that are never okay.

“Stop” and “Slow”

The first thing you’re going to write is a Red list of traits that always mean “stop” when you notice them in a relationship. If a guy has any characteristic from your Red list, you do not pursue a relationship with him (no matter how many good traits he has). My Red list includes things like “does not believe in God/won’t respect my belief” and “refusal to communicate,” along with others like the examples Debra Fileta gives in her book:

  • Abusiveness (physical, verbal, emotional, or sexual)
  • Dangerous and uncontrolled temper or displays of aggression
  • Pattern of dishonesty or betrayal

The next step is writing a Yellow list. This is for things you’re not sure about and would need serious consideration and discussion before moving forward in a relationship. They give you pause, but don’t mean the relationship can’t work. A few on my list are “previously married” and “trouble handling money.” Here are more examples from True Love Dates:

  • Family of origin issues and problems
  • Unhealthy habits or behaviors
  • Lacks motivation, goals, and dreams

“Go” For It!

green light
credit: Raymond Brown

Now for the fun part — the Green list or “husband list” of things you want to have in your relationship. If Red means stop and Yellow means slow down and reevaluate, Green means you can feel good about going forward with a relationship. Here’s where we get to go back to the free writing exercise.

I sorted my list into four categories: “Personal Values,” “Family and Relationships,” “Makes Me Feel …” and “Personality.” The circled phrases from my free writing exercise ended up in the first three categories, and many of the phrases that were neither circled nor crossed out ended up in one of the last two categories (you might even list a couple of the ones you crossed-out if they are still important to you). I saw the “Personality” category as representing things I want, but some of which could be negotiable. Here’s a few specific items from each list, so you can see what I’m talking about without me sharing a copy of the whole thing:

  • Personal Values
    • follows God and Christ first
    • uses his gifts to serve in some way
    • demonstrates integrity, commitment, faithfulness
  • Family and Relationships
    • respects and helps set boundaries
    • wants children
    • hospitable; welcomes guests and visitors to our home
  • Makes Me Feel …
    • protected and cherished
    • listened to and understood
    • like I’m valuable and contributing to his life
  • Personality
    • slow to anger
    • good communicator
    • enjoys discussing ideas

Looking At Yourself

Now that you have your list, turn it back on yourself and ask if you have those qualities. Would the guy you’ve written about want to date, or marry, you? Some of this should match pretty easily — you wouldn’t list a guy who wants 6 kids if you didn’t want 6 kids.

Others might be harder. If you listed a man who spends time with God every day, will he want to marry you if you regularly forget to study? Or if you ask for a guy who will never cheat on you, are you prepared to be faithful to him? If you want an Ephesians 5 husband, will you be an Ephesians 5 wife?

I hope this post was helpful to you — writing the list that inspired it has certainly helped me. While we know that God knows exactly what we need without us telling Him, I think it is helpful for us to have something more to ask Him than “please give me a good husband.” You’re putting effort into pursuing a relationship by figuring out what it is you’re looking for. God bless you, my dear readers.

Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. (Ps. 37:4)


Are We “Too Picky”?

If you’re single (and you don’t want to be), you’ve probably asked yourself the question, “Am I being too picky?” There’s got to be a reason why you’re not in a relationship with someone, right? and you’re sure the reason has something to do with you. People of the opposite sex do exist, and if you’re not in a relationship with one of them you might think that 1) you’re not attractive and so they aren’t asking you out, or 2) you’re too picky and so you’re avoiding/turning down relationships with certain people.

As a 25-year-old single woman, I ask myself this question, too. And I’ve been encouraged to do so by much of the relationship advice I’ve read. You might have read some of this, too. I’m talking about those articles that tell girls to tear-up their “perfect man” list and give any decent guy a chance if he asks them out. Which sounds pretty good in theory, but that’s pretty much how two of the three dates I’ve been on were with guys literally old enough to be my father, and the third was with an atheist who obviously didn’t meet my first requirement that a guy I date have a strong, Christian faith.

Now, I’m not saying you should hang onto unrealistic expectations that will leave you like this skeleton over here –> but you do need to have some standards, and you don’t have to feel guilty for insisting people meet those standards. You are under no obligation to “pity date” anyone, or fling yourself at the first living breathing human who shows the slightest bit of interest in you.

“The One”

This weekend, I spent a good bit of time catching up on articles that I’d missed and checking out What stood out to me on Boundless was two articles that offer step-by-step guides for men and for women on how to get married. They can both be summed up in the deceptively simple advice “be more attractive.”

Well, thank you Boundless-author. Previous to reading this article I was going for unattractive. I’ll change that now, and dates will magically appear.

Or not.

“What if I meet the one?”

These articles are part of a three-part relationship series. The first article was devoted to debunking the myth of “the one.” I actually agree with most of what he writes in this one — many Christian singles are too passive, waiting for God to drop their perfect match in their lap or hit them with a revelatory bolt of lightning when he or she shows up. But usually when people tell you to stop looking for “the one”/”your soulmate,” they are also telling you “you’re too picky” (also see my article “Why I Still Believe In Soul Mates“).  And I think it’s a little more complicated than this Boundless authors seems to think.

He says that if you’re a guy, there are only two reasons you’re not in a relationship: “1. You’re not asking. 2. No one’s saying yes.” The solutions are equally simple: “Man up” and “Be awesome.”

If you’re a girl, the reasons you’re single are “1. You’re saying “no” a lot” or “2. No one’s asking.” We’re given three things we can do to turn this around: “Demonstrate respect,” “Look good,” and “Be fun.”

Be (at least a little) Picky

Much as I love Boundless, had much more helpful tips this time. It’s a website run by Christian relationship counselor Debra Fileta. I’m really looking forward to reading more of her blog posts, and eventually her book. She has some great insight into the whole dating vs. courtship thing, but I won’t digress on that topic right now.

Her most recent articles have been 10 Guys You Should NEVER Date, 10 Girls You Should NEVER Date, and The Boyfriend Checklist: 10 Guys You SHOULD Date (I assume her next post will be a girlfriend checklist). They are focused on qualities you should either avoid or look for in a potential boyfriend or girlfriend, and eventually spouse. And they presuppose a certain level of picky-ness — that you won’t settle for Mr. On Again & Off Again, or Ms. Nothin’ In There But Air, or Mr. Sorta Spiritual, or Ms. One-Way-Street.

Even more helpful lists can be found in Fileta’s article What Women Really Want in a Man and What Men Really Want in a Woman. They are great, both for “this is what you should look for” and “this is the kind of person you need to be.” She says women want honesty, purity, strength, compassion, and humility. Men want realness, confidence, beauty, and passion. These aren’t impossible standards, and you really should be “picky” enough not to settle for less.