But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord? 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, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” – Jonah 4:1-4
Jonah wasn’t having it. God had called Jonah to preach a message of “turn or burn” to the Assyrians. Trouble is, Jonah wanted them to burn. The Assyrians had destroyed Jonah’s homeland. They had chained many of his people. How many of his loved ones had died or been displaced by the Assyrians? Jonah wanted no part in God’s plan of redemption for them. So, he fled. He ran himself right into the belly of a big fish.
Eventually, Jonah relented and went to Assyria with the most halfhearted sermon in human history. And of course, it worked. The Assyrians turned to God, promised to abandon their evil ways, and were forgiven. Jonah was not happy. He wasn’t ready to forgive. Jonah prayed his anger and called on God to take his life. He would rather die than forgive. God did not answer his prayer.
The book of Jonah doesn’t end with Jonah’s death nor does it end with Jonah forgiving the Assyrians. It ends with a proclamation of God’s presence and mercy.
Have you ever felt stuck in that place where offering forgiveness feels impossible? Where you would rather die than forgive? This place is not new territory for humanity.
The good news of this scripture is that you are not alone. God has sat with others in this land overgrown with anger and barren in belief. Sitting with Jonah, God did not say to him, “You know, you really should forgive.” God does not try to coerce Jonah to forgive. For while it’s true that forgiveness was necessary, at that moment Jonah simply needed the God who is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love to stay with him.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu puts it beautifully saying, “To forgive is a process that does not exclude hatred and anger. These emotions are all part of being human. You should never hate yourself for hating others who do terrible things. However, when I talk of forgiveness, I mean the belief that you can come out the other side a better person. A better person than one being consumed by anger and hatred.”
There will likely be times when we are not ready to forgive. Times when we need space. In those moments, may we find solace and hope in the truth that God, patient and abounding in love, is with us ready to lead us out from under our anger.
“Dear God, love is patient. Be patient with me. Help me to be patient with myself. Amen.”