But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, ‘Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.
We’re told we live in an age of rage. From Brexit to Trump, everything is broiling with discontent.
Pankaj Mishra, author of Age of Anger, said, “The current crisis today is not due only to economic inequality; it’s a feeling of powerlessness—that you have no control over your life, that you’re being jerked around by economic and political forces, that your dignity is being trampled on and your sense of honour is being violated and that you have no inner peace…. It’s a civil war happening today within our souls.”
My natural flash points come either around my children or wounded professional pride. It is the latter for Jonah. He felt sure he was preaching about destruction, but God had other plans.
He starts with the tried and tested diatribe of “Well, I told you this is what would happen…” Given how unreliable and unaware Jonah can sometimes appear, it is difficult to know if this is genuine. Did he not want to go to Nineveh because he knew they would repent or was he simply frightened?
At this point, Jonah is in full fright-and-flight mode and his anguish is perhaps understandable. After all, Nineveh’s reprieve would enable it to marshal its forces against Israel in the years ahead. At some point between 740 and 733 BC, the Assyrian Empire would go on to capture the Kingdom of Israel and forcibly relocate several thousand Israelites.
As history also shows, no empire lasts forever. The city of Nineveh itself would fall in 612 BC after a bloody civil war, a fact that would not have been lost on the book’s original audience. The city’s reprieve from divine wrath will prove temporary.
Anxiety about the future gnaws at us. We swing between baseless optimism to crippling pessimism, which naturally causes us to boil over with anger. Bookshelves groan under the weight of various self-help books on the topic. Perhaps we should turn back to God’s example. Where our responses are often instantaneous and overwhelming, it is telling that God is described as ‘slow to anger’. It is not that God never gets angry, just that God is not a prisoner of misdirected rage.
In the letter from James, we read: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.” In our frazzled age, these are words to live by.
How does God’s wrath and human anger differ and why might the former be a force for good?