One thing I love about the Bible is that in continually insists that, despite conventional wisdom, sometimes people do actually change. And sometimes, as this piece from Frederick Buechner reminds us, if we do what we know to be right — even if we are REALLY unhappy about it and resist it as long as possible — God will use us to do remarkable things.
This struck me as particularly relevant, though I promise that I’m not singling any person or any group out. We are all Jonah, and we all sometimes hate the change that seems to be the very nature of God. We don’t have to like it. We just have to do it.
Within a few minutes of swallowing the prophet Jonah, the whale suffered a severe attack of acid indigestion, and it’s not hard to see why. Jonah had a disposition that was enough to curdle milk.
When God ordered him to go to Nineveh and tell them there to shape up and get saved, the expression on Jonah’s face was that of a man who has just gotten a whiff of septic-tank trouble. In the first place, the Ninevites were foreigners and thus off his beat. In the second place, far from wanting to see them get saved, nothing would have pleased him more than to see them get what he thought they had coming to them.
It was as the result of a desperate attempt to get himself out of the assignment that he got himself swallowed by the whale instead; but the whale couldn’t stomach him for long, and in the end Jonah went ahead and, with a little more prodding from God, did what he’d been told. He hated every minute of it, however, and when the Ninevites succumbed to his eloquence and promised to shape up, he sat down under a leafy castor oil plant to shade him from the blistering sun and smoldered inwardly. It was an opening that God could not resist.
He caused the castor oil plant to shrivel up to the last leaf, and when Jonah got all upset at being back in the ghastly heat again, God pretended to misunderstand what was bugging him.
“Here you are, all upset out of pity for one small castor oil plant that has shriveled up,” he said, “so what’s wrong with having pity for this whole place that’s headed for hell in a handcart if something’s not done about it?” (Jonah 4:10-11).
It is one of the rare instances in the Old Testament of God’s wry sense of humor, and it seems almost certain that Jonah didn’t fail to appreciate it.
~originally published in Peculiar Treasures and later in Beyond Words