Have you ever considered how books of the Bible would be changed if God had left out their final chapter? Matthew without chapter 28 would leave us as Christians without a Great Commission. Ruth without chapter 4 would never allow us to marvel that this Moabite woman was the great-grandmother of the great King David and the great-(many times over)-grandmother of our Savior, the greater King David.
And what if Jonah was a book with three chapters instead of four? A three-chapter Jonah is a powerful story of a man running from God, being transformed by God, obeying God, and witnessing a great and unexpected revival. But Jonah has four chapters, and it is in that final chapter that everything changes. In chapter four, Jonah goes off the rails; he witnesses the mighty power of God in bringing revival to an entire city, but he responds in a disconcerting way:
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.” (vv. 1–3)
There is a challenge here for the theologically minded Christian—the Christian who loves doctrine and, even better, loves sound doctrine.
Even in the midst of his complaining, Jonah described some of the best and greatest qualities of God. He was correct in describing God as merciful and gracious, as slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, as relenting from disaster. Yet these qualities of this sovereign God were qualities Jonah came to resent.
Jonah hated the people of Nineveh. He believed that he and his people were worthy of God’s attention and worthy of God’s salvation. And he believed the people of Nineveh were unworthy of God’s affection and salvation. Jonah failed to see that the very qualities that allowed God to save Nineveh were the qualities that allowed Him to extend grace to Israel. He was blind to his own desperate need.
Jonah warns us that we too can have correct doctrine even while we neglect to love God for being who He is. In our minds and hearts, we can partition God, embracing the qualities we like while rejecting the qualities we dislike. We can be fractured Christians, speaking glorious facts even while feeling bitter resentment.
The book closes with this tension unresolved, and I am convinced it remains unresolved so that you and I can ponder and apply this truth: to resent even the smallest part of God’s perfect, holy character is to resent all that God is.