At dinner last night we were talking to my son Brenden (age 12) about a project he has to do at school. In his computer class he has to create a PowerPoint presentation and on one of the slides, for content, he has to create a list of his "favorite things." So we sat in Taco Bueno and quizzed Brenden about this favorite things. Favorite movie? Favorite book? Favorite food? Favorite sport? Favorite school subject?
Eventually I ask, "What's your favorite bible story?"
Brenden responded, "Jonah."
We all say, "Yeah, that's a good story."
But Brenden quickly clarified, "But it's not my favorite because of the whale."
I asked, "So what part of the story do you like?"
Brenden then shared, "Remember how Jonah preached to the city of Nineveh and the people repent? Well, Jonah gets angry about this and goes outside the city to wait to see if God is going to destroy the city. It's hot and God allows a plant to grow up beside Jonah to give him some shade. And then, once Jonah is comfortable, God takes the vine away. Soon Jonah starts complaining that he's hot again and wants his shade back. God then confronts Jonah: You care more about yourself, Jonah, and your bit of shade, than all those people in Nineveh."
I say, "That's your favorite part of the bible?"
Brenden, "Yes. It's about how you shouldn't care more about yourself than you do about other people."
Here's the ending of the book of Jonah. And what a wonderful and sudden ending it is. It ends with an unanswered question. And it's almost like the whole dramatic story--running away, storms, sinking ships, casting lots, being thrown into the sea, swallowed by a whale, the whole Sunday School bit--was leading up to this one, vital question:
But the LORD replied, "Have you any right to be angry?" [Because God didn't destroy the city.]And it's still a question the church gets wrong. So here's praying (thank you, Brenden) that Christians everywhere will stop worrying about their shade trees.
So Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then the LORD God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah's head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, "It would be better for me to die than to live."
But God said to Jonah, "Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?"
"I do," he said. "I am angry enough to die."
But the LORD said, "You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?"