Jonah: Prophet, Anti-Hero, and the Surprising Face of EvilMeditations — By Larry Shallenberger on May 20, 2012 at 10:08 am
I’m hard pressed to think of a more complex anti-hero in scripture. The Bible has its villains: Goliath, Judas, and Pharisees come to mind. But these antagonists are, by and large, two dimensional. The narrators don’t give us a window into their thoughts and motivations. They’re each mere foils.
Jonah on the other hand gets a whole book, which is quite an accomplishment for one of the most unlikable characters in Scripture. His story closes with him sitting on a bluff overlooking the city of Nineveh pouting over have accomplished God’s work and making death wishes.
Oh sure, there’s a side to Jonah that’s admirable. He served as God’s prophet during the reign of Jeroboam II. Israel’s GNP hummed and the common citizen indulged in material comforts and chose to not see the poor and oppressed the people they were able to help. Jonah’s primary assignment was confronting his countrymen to remember justice. Jonah was a patriot. He saw the Assyrian threat at the border. The Assyrians were a fierce pagan nation with ambitions of empire. Jonah loved Mother Israel to the point he choose self-imposed exile to save her life. When Jonah got on that ship he was walking away from everything that gave him identity: Family, nation, the temple, his vocation as spokesman for God. He even though he was sacrificing connection with God by trying to flee beyond what he imagined was his jurisdiction.
Jonah martyred himself for country. By disappearing that ship to Tarshish, he chose to save the nation but die as an unnoticed footnote in the Israel’s chronicles.
But, Jonah was evil. He sensed that God was about to love the very people he loved to hate. God and that forgiving thing he does. Jonah viewed God as Israel’s property and his love as a commodity that would be given and withheld at Jonah’s discretion. Jonah knew full well that Israel’s national charter included the promise that they were to a blessing to allpeople. The book ends with God scolding Jonah for loving a vine he didn’t make. The implication is that God made the 120,000 citizens of Nineveh. These people were also bearers of the divine image, no matter how far from God. No prophet of God would tell God who was worth loving or not.
M. Scott Peck defined evil as malignant self-righteousness that refuses to tolerate imperfection and sin. The evil person projects their own imperfection onto another group and then gives themselves freedom to hate them. Peck called evil militant ignorance. He suppressed what he know about the Creation Account and God’s Promise to Abraham. Midway through the book Jonah is close to having some personal insight. He did pray one of the greatest recorded prayers of repentance in scripture. Whatever heart change Jonah has in the whale’s belly is short-lived. He complied with God’s command to warn the Nineveh to turn to God but then he sat outside the city hoping to have a ringside seat to walk God give his enemy’s capital the Sodom and Gomorrah treatment. Jonah held onto to his evil. He conjured up a view of the Assyrians that shucked their goodness and pretended he was pure and righteous.
The book ends with God unable to persuade Jonah to step away from his own evil. Ironically, God’s prophet ends up embodying evil while the feared barbarians celebrate God’s mercy.
I read a story like this and have to ask myself hard questions:
Who am I willing to hate?
Why do I work do hard to present myself has having it all together spiritually when that’s the root of evil?
How do you do life differently when you’re practiced in the religious game?