The Tale of A Whale

Have you ever noticed that the story of Jonah reads a little bit like a fairy tale? This man, Jonah, one of God’s prophets (although you wonder about God’s choice in prophets by the time you’re done reading the story) is sent off on a mission for God to warn an erring city of its impending destruction if it doesn’t turn things around.

Instead of heading off to do God’s bidding, as you would expect him to do, being a prophet and all, he heads in the opposite direction. A big storm just about swamps the ship his is escaping on and he is eventually tossed overboard as he assures the sailors that this will assuage the anger of his god.

God, not to be outsmarted, sends a big fish to swallow Jonah and give him a chance to think over his choices for three days at which time he is burped out onto the beach. Apparently repentant he heads off to Nineveh where he was supposed to go in the first place.

He calls the people to repentance, warns of a coming judgment, and then is annoyed out of his mind when they actually repent and God decides not to destroy them. He goes and sits outside the city and pouts—so angered that the city won’t be destroyed after all. The sun is hot. So God in another merciful act causes a large plant to grow in one day to shade the dour prophet.

The next day a worm, sent by God to help illustrate a point, comes along and eats the plant and it shrivels and dies. Now Jonah is really mad! This is about the time Jonah and God have a really good talk to kind of sort things out.

Jonah is angry at God’s mercy! He hates that he went to all that work and that God knew all along those people would have a change of heart. God sends a leafy plant and then he takes it away. This angers Jonah, too. He liked the plant that God had sent him so that he could have shade while he sulked. In fact, he cared more for that plant than he did for the people in the city.

God points out to Jonah a few important points. “You feel sorry about a plant dying—what about the 120,000 people living in this city, not to mention all of the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?” And then the story ends.

It’s an amazing story, really. Most of us are familiar with Jonah and the Whale. Are we as familiar with the God of mercy portrayed in the story? The whole story is really about mercy and grace. God saves Jonah from the ocean, not to manipulate him but to protect him from his impulsive, angry rebellion. That is what he does for the city of Nineveh, also.

Isn’t that also the story of your life and mine? We impulsively do self-destructive things, make bad choices, get ourselves into a jam and then moan and cry (wale) for God to get us out. We are even angry at times when we see God’s mercy demonstrated towards others because we feel they deserve punishment. We want revenge.

But we are so relieved when we don’t get what we deserve. Or do we even notice that we haven’t. Just like Jonah we can be petulant and unseeing. Wasn’t this the childish attitude of Jonah—arrogant and self-centered, oblivious to the needs and concerns of anyone other than himself?

The amazing, boundless mercy and grace of God are almost too good for us to wrap our minds around. We are more comfortable with our tit for tat games and exclusive and vengeful thinking. God’s love is for everyone and is constantly reaching out towards us to draw us back into relationship with the Divine.

God loves us more than we could possibly ever imagine or comprehend so sometimes I think we just stop trying—just like Jonah. We sit under our little plant and have a personal pity party while all the time God is trying to get through. The message is so clear—God loves each person and desires to be in relationship with him or her. No one is excluded

Next time you find yourself in one of your less than mature moments, just remember the story of Jonah and of God’s mercy and love. As one of my favorite, early, radio preachers used to say at the end of each broadcast—the words of hope and comfort that we all long to hear—“Remember, friend, God loves you!”