But Jonah thought this was utterly wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Come on, Lord! Wasn’t this precisely my point when I was back in my own land? This is why I fled to Tarshish earlier! I know that you are a merciful and compassionate God, very patient, full of faithful love, and willing not to destroy. At this point, Lord, you may as well take my life from me, because it would be better for me to die than to live.”
The Lord responded, “Is your anger a good thing?” But Jonah went out from the city and sat down east of the city. There he made himself a hut and sat under it, in the shade, to see what would happen to the city.
Then the Lord God provided a shrub, and it grew up over Jonah, providing shade for his head and saving him from his misery. Jonah was very happy about the shrub. But God provided a worm the next day at dawn, and it attacked the shrub so that it died. Then as the sun rose God provided a dry east wind, and the sun beat down on Jonah’s head so that he became faint. He begged that he might die, saying, “It’s better for me to die than to live.”
God said to Jonah, “Is your anger about the shrub a good thing?”
Jonah said, “Yes, my anger is good—even to the point of death!”
But the Lord said, “You ‘pitied’ the shrub, for which you didn’t work and which you didn’t raise; it grew in a night and perished in a night. Yet for my part, can’t I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than one hundred twenty thousand people who can’t tell their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”
“Is your anger a good thing?”
Now we finally get down to the real reason why Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh. He wanted to see the city destroyed. He cared nothing for the people there, and couldn’t see why God would, either.
Jonah is angry: angry that he was sent in the first place, angry that the people of Nineveh responded to his message, angry about the loss of his shady spot on the hillside, angry that God isn’t as angry as he is. Literally, he says that: “I knew you were merciful and compassionate!” As though that’s a bad thing!
There’s a great line from the New Testament letter of James that says: “An angry person doesn’t produce God’s righteousness.” (James 1:20, CEB) We sometimes talk about “righteous anger,” but it’s unclear biblically whether such a thing exists. Anger can motivate us to action, can cause us to stand up to change a situation, but it cannot produce righteousness. Anger, left unchecked, will destroy the one who harbors it, and cause a lot of damage to innocent bystanders along the way.
So as much as you might want to believe it is, no, your anger is not a good thing.
For Pondering & Prayer
Think about a person or a group of people that you are angry with, or have a really hard time loving. When you stop to consider the main message of Jonah – that God’s love is for everyone, even them – does that make you angry with God? How can you move past that? Should you?
If you agree that there are moments when anger is justified, called for, and absolutely necessary for change, how do you transition past those moments to make sure you don’t get stuck there?