Everyone in the story received God's mercy and everyone (including God) was happy – except Jonah. Jonah and God had a conversation, punctuated by God's three questions which reveal the purpose of Jonah's story.
"Are you right to be angry?" God had not destroyed Nineveh. Jonah had done what God wanted, but God had not done what Jonah wanted, and so Jonah blamed God for doing wrong and being soft on sin.
Don't forget, the Assyrians raped, impaled, and beheaded women and children. In Jonah's mind, "If God is just and right, why doesn't he crush them for sin?" The nasty Ninevites pled for mercy and God withheld judgment. What is up with God? What about all those widows and children they shattered? "God, if this is how you're going to run the world where you let rapists, murderers, and pedophiles go free, then I'm done serving you. I can't believe in a God like that."
Our world is messed up with school shootings, child trafficking, sexual abuse, and genocide. We too can angrily accuse God for doing nothing to stop it. "God, if you're powerful and loving, why don't you protect the victims and punish these sinners?" We want a God who will run the world as we know it should be run.
But hear God's question. "Are you right to be angry?" We are not in a different category of sinner than "those" sinners. God was saying, "Jonah, you're just as evil a sinner as the Ninevite, and I showed you mercy. Are you right to be angry at me? You must trust me." You will either trust God or you will trust your understanding.
Jonah waited to watch if God would judge, but God mercifully caused a plant to grow, providing shade for his prophet. Jonah was glad for the plant. His anger was cooled because his life was comfortable. But the next day, God took the plant away, and Jonah exploded with the same anger he had toward God, but it was masked as anger toward the plant. "Jonah, are you right to be angry at the plant?"
We take our anger with God out on knotted shoelaces, dried pens, flat tires, slow computers, and squeaky chairs. Those things are not your problem. YOU ARE YOUR PROBLEM. There is a selfish arrogance that says you deserve better than what God has given. When you are angry at an object, you are ultimately angry at God for not doing you right – and you have forgotten the gospel. Before the cross, you were doomed to wrath. Then Jesus came and gave you the mercy you didn't deserve!
"Should I not have pity on the city?" Nineveh never deserved God's mercy – and neither did Jonah. We too do not deserve God's mercy. We can wish swift destruction on evil people, but if God had not been longsuffering, he would have destroyed us long ago.
Let us remember the gospel the next time someone hurts people close to us. Should not God have pity on them as he has had on us? Will not the Judge of all the world do right? By the way, Nineveh eventually was severely punished for their sins. God does triumph over evil.
Food for thought: Let us rest in the gospel of God's judgment and mercy.
student pastor at www.burgeterrace.org, founder of www.3gministries.org