Chapter 4:1-4 (ESV) 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.” And the Lord said, “Do you do well to be angry?”
Question to think about: What is the difference between righteous and unrighteous anger?
Have you ever heard someone mutter the phrase, “I don’t want to live in a world that... (fill in the blank)?” For example, “I don’t want to live in a world where kids can’t get enough to eat,” or “I don’t want to live in a world that is run by greed.” Well, Jonah didn’t want to live in a world where God could show mercy to the Ninevites.
I’d argue that as creatures who are tainted by sin, we have a very hard time discerning truly righteous anger. However, we do know that in order for anger to be righteous, it has to: a) contain a measure of mercy, and b) be based on accurate evidence. Part b is usually where we mess up as creatures because we tend to become angry based on evidence that is filtered through our personal biases. Also, we tend to demand justice when someone sins against us and expect mercy when we sin against others. In the case of Jonah, his anger definitely failed the mercy test regardless of the evil actions of the Ninevites.
Why do we need to show mercy? Because we were created by a God who shows mercy and who expects us to do the same. I recommend reading Matthew 18:21-35 for a good illustration of how Jesus feels about forgiveness and mercy. As we’ll see in the remainder of chapter 4, God not only shows mercy to the Ninevites but to Jonah himself as he wrestles with his anger toward them.
Merciful Father, we thank you for your patience with us as we deal with anger toward others in our own life, even more so when we have anger toward you. Our vision is short-sighted, and our reactions are selfish, but you are working out all things for the good of those who love you and are called according to your purpose so that we may be changed to be more like your son, Jesus. May this be the truth that brings us peace. Amen.