But the Lord said, ‘You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left – and also many animals?
A sound piece of advice to newlyweds is to not go to bed on an argument. One thing that invariably frustrates this is our need to have the last word. No matter what zingers might have been exchanged, to provide the closing salvo is the surest way to claim victory. “I would have won this argument by now,” I often think, if only the other person would stop talking…
As far as debates go, the exchange between Jonah and God is beautifully balanced. While the translation cannot fully capture this beautiful symmetry, the structure is telling. In the original language, Jonah opens with a thirty-nine-word diatribe; God closes with a thirty-nine words speech. God’s initial question is three words long, whilst Jonah’s response is of an equal length. God’s next utterance consists of five words; matched by five-words from Jonah.
It is only fitting that God gets the last word (much to Jonah’s annoyance, I am sure), but they are given equal opportunity to express their views. Jonah is not a spare part. He is given space to air his views. It is however impossible to escape the sense that they are talking past each other, Jonah never quite grasping what is being said.
God is so gentle with him. God hears him out, no matter how nonsensical Jonah’s ravings might be. As has been the case throughout the four short chapters, God never gives up on his errant prophet, teasing him and nudging him along. Jonah passes through his own story much in the same way so many of us travel through our lives. One moment he is noble and righteous, the next he is contorted with rage and small-mindedness. Like an unknowing narrator in an Alan Bennett play, he progresses through life seemingly blind to his own short comings and the limits of his imagination.
Yet Jonah remains God’s chosen one, no matter how imperfect he may be. Whatever our failings – whether it is our tendency to talk back or head in the wrong direction – God has set us to a specific task. It is impossible to escape the sense that God would not have it any other way.
Will you let God have the last word?