Angry : Jonah 4:1-4
May Christ dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, may have strength to comprehend what is the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ. ~ Ephesians 3:18
Well today we’re entering into the last chapter of this awesome story. The climax of this well written story. And this climactical chapter begins with the word ‘but’. So, since we are opening with a ‘but’, lets review what has taken place. Let me do a quick recap of where we’ve been.
In the beginning of the story, God came to Jonah and told him to go to Nineveh, but Jonah tried desperately to run away from the presence of the LORD. We hear that a lot in the first scene of the story. He wants to flee “the presence of the LORD”. Then the story tells us that God sent a great storm – and it was a great storm. The kind that made hardened sailors tremble in their dock shoes. Those pagan sailors were so afraid that they called out to Jonah’s God to save them. And after they throw Jonah off the ship – Jonah’s God answered their prayer. Jonah, on the other hand, is floating to the bottom of the sea when God sends a great fish to swallow him. God leaves Jonah in that fish for three days and nights. So the first chapter was a very exciting chapter with two messages. First we talked about running from God. We all run from God, but no matter how far or how fast we attempt to run from him – he always runs after us. He spares no expense to save rebellious sinners. He sent a great storm, he sent great fish, he even sent his one and only Son — but that’s another story. God will spare no expense. He is lavish and audacious in is love and pursuit after rebels like you and me. The storm and the fish were not punishments it was a show of God’s grace.
From the belly of that fish, Jonah tells us that he is in the very belly of hell. He has finally gotten what he wanted, to be away from the presence of the LORD. Hell is essentially separation from the presence of God. Jonah doesn’t like it there and pleads to God to be true to his loving character and to give him grace and mercy. Jonah knows that God is full of grace and mercy – slow to anger and abounding in everlasting love. So Jonah experience, on a very personal level, the depths of God’s grace. The fish spits him back on the shore and the LORD speaks a 2nd time, but says the same thing, “Go to Nineveh.” Last week we looked at that part of the story, Jonah went, he preached a 5 word sermon, and every single Ninevite in Nineveh repented, fasted and begged God for mercy and grace. And God, being full of grace, gave it to them.
Now, that brings us to chapter 4. The last chapter. The climax of this well written story. And this chapter starts with the word “but”.
But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the LORD said, “Do you do well to be angry?” ~ Jonah 4:1-4
But Jonah was angry. Today I want to focus on just these first 4 verses. Jonah is angry. He is very angry. And I want to talk about 2 things. First, I want to talk about being angry with God. Anger towards God?! We should explore that. Second, I want us to think about God’s response to Jonah’s anger. God asks the angry rebel a question, “Do you do well to be angry?” I think in light of our first conversation about anger towards God, we might also want to explore that question too. Do we do well to be angry.
ANGRY WITH GOD
So…let’s talk about anger. Specifically anger with God. Have you been angry with God? Is it okay to be angry with God? I’m pretty confident that there are a lot of people in this room who, at times in your life, maybe even most of the time in your life, or maybe even right in your life, you have been bitter and angry towards God. Because we tend to blame God. And when things don’t go as we planned or when our plans collide with his plans, we get angry. I would say that we are so good at this that we do it on multiple levels. We do it subconsciously and we may even do it consciously. We may just started to ignore God because we are angry and hurt. We do that to people. We might not admit that we are angry, we might not tell that person that we are angry, we just simply start to push them away because they hurt us. We do the same thing to God. Maybe he didn’t answer some of your prayers. He didn’t give us what we wanted. He didn’t give us the life that we felt we deserved. So – we just start pushing him away. Some of us may not do it subconsciously, you may do it consciously. You might shake a bold fist toward the sky and yell at God – like Cool Hand Luke. Hey old man! You up there old man?!”
I’ve been there. I remember when I was in college I had just experience a pretty bitter breakup with a girl and I was very angry at the world and especially God. For some reason – it was his fault. At the time I was a junior in college and I was very much into predestination – so everything was God’s fault. I have since changed a lot of my philosophical meandering but at the time I was a very cynical and bitter Christian. I remember that summer I was going on a mission trip to South America. I had been to Africa the summer before where I had raised support from friends and family in order to go on the trip. I didn’t want to raise sport for the S.A. trip. I felt bad for asking people to give me money so that I could travel – so I worked an extra job so that I could pay my own way. Now, I will admit to you that there was a bit of self satisfaction in that. I was proud on 2 levels. Too proud to ask and I proud that I paid for. I was alone for most of that trip. I was put on a little boat with national whom I didn’t know, to go to an island to teach Vacation Bible School for children in the morning on the north side of the island in the morning and then teach a youth camp for teenagers in the afternoon on the south side of the island. I had just arrive that evening and needed to be ready by 6:00a the next morning.
I was awake all night long stressing about what I was going to teach. Now my experience on this island was completely uncomfortable. I was sleeping on a hardwood floor with only a sheet between me and the floor. It was extremely hot. I can’t sleep when I am hot and sticky. There were also bats flying over my head and at one point, I got up to use the bathroom and was buzzed by one of them. To make matters worse, I chose to kick off the suffocating mosquito net only to be eaten by mosquitoes. There I was, hot, sticky, afraid that I was going to get malaria, completely uncomfortable, bitter about this break up, and mad that I couldn’t come up with a simple children’s message for the next day that I finally exploded in anger. I was so angry that I shook my fist in the sky and began to scream and shout at God. Why won’t you just let me get some sleep? You won’t tell me what to tell these people! You won’t give me a lesson! I’m tossing and turning all night long! I paid my own way to come to this country – to serve you! The least you can do is let me get some sleep!
Wow. I can’t believe I actually said all that. But, honestly speaking, that began for me and open dialogue with God for the next 5-6 years where I was just bitter and angry about everything in my life. I began a pattern of self-destruction simply because I was mad at God. And I don’t think I have fully recovered from that. So, I know what its like to be angry with God. You know, this is one of the reasons why I really like the story. This is why I like Jonah. Because I can relate to running from God and can relate to being angry with God. And I’m pretty confident that if you’re honest you have exhibited anger towards God too. I want to discuss that.
Have you ever been angry with God? If you’re willing to be vulnerable, are you angry with God right now? Are there things in your life that cause you to be bitter and to blame him?
We are angry for different reasons. C.S. Lewis said that he was angry with God for not existing. In his early career Lewis was a staunch atheist – and an angry one. Isn’t it funny that atheists always seem to be angry with God? Incidentally, there is a new set of studies in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology that proved that atheists/agnostics are more angry with God than than those who claim to believe in God. The researcher comments,
At first glance, this finding seemed to reflect an error. How could people be angry with God if they did not believe in God? Re-analyses of a second dataset revealed similar patterns: Those who endorsed their religious beliefs as “atheist/agnostic” or “none/unsure” reported more anger toward God than those who reported a religious affiliation. (Julia Exline and Alyce Martin, “Anger Toward God: A New Frontier in Forgiveness Research.)
Sometimes our anger with God can lead us to pretend like he isn’t even there. Maybe you have done that. Studies suggest that many atheists are angry with God – and that is interesting to me. That something you might need to think about.
Well, in this story Jonah is very angry at God. In the Hebrew the word displeased literally means that it was ‘evil in the sight of Jonah’. Add the word exceedingly to that and it translates, “it was evil a great evil in his eyes.” Again, the Hebrews talked like this to give a thing force. The word evil is repeated for force. What God had done was EEEVVIILL – in his opinion – and that evil opinion caused an anger to burn him. Jonah was burning in anger.
Maybe you’re here tonight and you’ve been angry with God. Maybe you’ve been so angry with God that you’ve been ignoring him and you’ve been self-imploding, self-destructing because of your anger towards him. Maybe you’re so angry with God that you’ve chosen to believe that he does not exist. If that’s you tonight, as it has been me, then God has something to say to us.
DO WE DO WELL TO BE ANGRY
God listens to Jonah’s whining and crying and then he responds with a question. “Do you do well to be angry?” In the Hebrew it’s only a three word question and it’s sort of a zinger. The way the question is phrased makes it clear that God is saying – with these 3 little words, “Jonah, you need to check yourself. Look into your heart. Examine carefully what you’re thinking, and what you’re feeling, and what you’re even saying. Do you do well to be angry?”
So I’ll say it again. If that’s you tonight, then God has something to say to us. We need to check ourselves. Look into your heart. Examine what your thinking. Do you do well to be angry? How is that working for you anyway? Oh – I can speak from experience on this one, it doesn’t work so well.
So let’s think about this. What exactly is it that is causing Jonah to be so angry? What is it that God has done that was so evil in the sight of Jonah? Jonah is angry because God gave grace to the Assyrians. The fact that God showed grace to those wicked, evil sinners makes Jonah mad. He thinks that it’s evil for God to allow those people to be saved.
I think it’s purposefully ironic that the only two times that Jonah actually speaks to God in this story is first from the fish and second – here on this hillside, and both prayers are about the depths of God’s grace. In the first prayer, from the belly of the fish, Jonah is asking for God to give him grace. In the second prayer, Jonah is again praying about the depths of God’s grace, but this time God’s grace has gone too deep. He doesn’t want God to give it to the Ninevites. Prayer 1, “You’re a God full of grace, please give me grace.” Prayer 2, “You are a God full of Grace, and I knew you were going to give them grace!”
So God asks, “Umm, think about that a second. Really? Don’t you see the irony, Jonah?” Now its a good thing that I am not God, because if I were I would kill him. “You wanna die? Fine, die! You self-centered, arrogant, little camel!”
You see, Jonah doesn’t get it. His anger reveals that although he might say with his mouth, “I know you are a merciful God, slow to anger and abounding in love”, he still doesn’t get that God is merciful, slow to anger and abounding in love. He doesn’t get the depths of God’s grace. Jonah’s anger stems from the fact that he does not understand grace and he doesn’t know himself. He thinks he deserves it.
Let me give of the clear definition of Grace since we are talking about it so much. What is this grace that Jonah needs to get – that we need to get. Here is a good definition:
Grace is unconditional acceptance granted to an undeserving person by an un-obligated giver. ~ Tjividian
Explain how your anger stems from the fact that: (1) you dont get how underserving you are and (2) you don’t get how gracious he is.
One commentator says that no one, in this story, deserves God’s grace less than Jonah. If there’s any one who deserves God’s anger and justice and wrath – it’s Jonah. And yet… God does not kill him. God does not give him wrath. God takes another day to teach Jonah just how much he loves him and how much he loves sinners. In the same way God sent a great storm and great fish, he is going to send a shade tree, a worm and great east wind. All of it is just to teach Jonah about the depths of his grace. It is not to punish him. It is God’s lavishness. He spares no expense. God wants Jonah to get it. He wants Jonah to really get just how deep the love and grace of God is.
God wants you to get it too. But we are just like Jonah. We don’t get it. We can not seem to grasp the depths of God’s grace. We don’t understand God’s grace and we don’t understand ourselves. Our anger always stems from the fact that we do not understand how undeserving we are of grace and we do not see how deep his grace is that it would be given to undeserving sinners. And then we have the audacity to blame him when we don’t get what we think we deserve. Do you see the irony? When our plans collide with his plans it is evil in our eyes. We become bitter and self destructive – just like Jonah – he wants to die.
But do you see how much God loves this rebellious idiot? Do you see how tenderly and patient God is toward this ungrateful twerp? I want you to see that. Because you do not deserve his grace either. I am ungrateful and rebellious just like Jonah. We all are.
And yet he loves us.
So, imagine with me if you will, another tree, on another hillside, over looking another city. And that entire city is angry with God. They are so angry with God they want to kill him. So God shows up in the most vulnerable and humblest of ways. He shows up as a human – made of flesh and bone and blood – fragile. “You want my life? Take it. I gladly lay it down for you.” And the people of that city whip him with iron and glass and leather. His flesh is literally stripped from his bone. The people drag him out of their city. They take him to that hill where he will be publicly executed upon a tree. They spit on him, they hurl insults, they rip the beard from his face. They wanted him dead. This man who raised the dead, healed the sick, fed the poor, comforted widows, and showed grace and kindness to the lowest of that city. And yet, they cheered to see him crucified on that tree. They didn’t get it.
And as they were doing all of this to him. As they were hitting him, and spiting on him and cursing him and nailing his hands and his feet to that tree – do you know what he did? Do you know what he said? He prayed to his Father that God would forgive them. He said,
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34
You may be angry at God, but I can assure you, he is not angry at you. You may be hurting, you may be running, but the story of the Bible teaches us that he hurts with you and he is running after you. He wants you to experience the depth of God’s grace. Do you do well to be angry? Why should you be angry with the one who loves you? Perhaps you can pray this very moment to receive God’s love and to be reconciled to God. If you’ve been running, if you’ve been angry, if you have created this great distance between you and the God who loves you – so much that he created you, he gave you life, and he gave his Son so that you may have eternal life with him – my advice to you would be to turn to him and tell him that you’re angry. Have a heart to heart. Have a good conversation. And trust him – you can trust him. And when you do – my prayer for you would be like Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians that Christ would dwell in your heart and that you would know the depths of his love and grace.
May Christ dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, may have strength to comprehend what is the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ. Ephesians 3:18