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, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the plant? ‘It is,’ he said. ‘And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.
To describe myself as an enthusiastic gardener might be going a bit far. I suspect it will be many years before I can get the whole garden to cohere, but I have occasional victories. A vivid crop of Thalictrum ‘Black Stockings’ here, a burst of daises there. Just occasionally I get to feel pleased with myself.
There can be no denying that dedicated gardeners work hard. There are other factors at play too: enough disposable income to buy good quality plants, forgiving weather, soil conditions, amongst other things.
When I step back however and admire an attractive crop of foxgloves, I come to realise how insignificant my role has been. There is a whole web of circumstances utterly beyond my comprehension that have brought them about: the unseen work of the horticulturists from which my plants have been cut, the fact that I am alive in this geographical location and at this moment in history, when a man can spend his free time idling in the garden rather than slaving down a coal-mine.
We spend so much time admiring the work of our own hands, without realising so little of it is down to us. So much of our lives are spent striving after things: careers, houses and status. “I have secured this job title because of my brilliance.” “I live in this house because of my hard work.” Yet, the inevitable passage of time will see such things pulled from our fingers.
God’s teasing of Jonah about the plant is a way of pointing out to him that everything is a gift: The social circumstances we are born into. The moment in time in which we live. The parents that bring us into the world. It is all a gift that we can only hold onto momentarily.
We feel a pang of pained recognition over Jonah’s sense of entitlement over the plant. It captures our own desperate grasping after so many things. Is it right for us to be angry?