The World’s Worst Prophet

I recently rediscovered my love for the story of Jonah.

You probably all know it. You may well have dismissed it as a kid’s story where a guy runs away from God and gets swallowed by a fish. One of our Lord’s most bizarre disciplinary decisions, I think you will agree. Sending a fish to swallow an errant prophet, and consequently to vomit him out when he had had some time to think about what he had done. Like some sort of spiritual naughty step. But with more fish guts.

I like to think that the story was originally written with a now long-lost subtitle of ‘the world’s worst prophet.’ I mean, honestly, this guy is awful. As a prophet surely you have one, fairly simple, job description: Listen to what God says. Tell people about it.

Instead, Jonah takes a rather novel to propheteering (that’s the correct verb, right?) He listens to what God says. And then completely ignores it. In fact, he goes one step further: he runs in the opposite direction.

But so many words have been written and spoken about the themes of repentance, forgiveness, the importance of obeying God and the difficulties of living inside sea creatures. I’m not about to add to those.

My favourite part of the story is actually at the end. After the world’s worst prophet has eventually completed the task that was asked of him, he basically goes into a massive sulk.

Like a hormonal teenager frustrated at his parents for not punishing his younger brother, or Cristiano Ronaldo throwing a hissy fit when his teammate’s pass is not up to his high, greasy-haired standards, he gets angry with God for being just too darn gracious.

“This is so typical of you God. It’s just not fair!” he screams, gesticulating wildly, before turning on his heels, running upstairs and slamming his bedroom door shut. Probably.

And then, like a spoilt child, he completely overreacts when his fig tree shade – that God provided in the first place – is taken away.

“I’m so miserable I could die” he whines.

This, somewhat bizarrely, is where the story ends. There is no Hollywood ending where everyone makes up. We are just left with the image of Jonah, joylessly wallowing in self-pity like the miserable git that he is.

But this is what I love about it. Firstly, the image of this petulant, childish, grumpy, downright terrible prophet is just hilarious. Secondly, it gives me some hope, because I see so much of myself in that picture. Perhaps, in spite of my childishness, grumpiness and my many other faults, God can still use me. Thirdly, I love its realism – not all stories wrap up nicely with a little bow. Sometimes the reconciliation does not come. Sometimes things don’t work out as we expected. Life is more complicated than that.

And yes, I’m perfectly aware of the irony in championing the realism of a story where the protagonist lives inside of a fish for three days.

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