Jonah: The Sin of Selfishness
by Zack Howard
Have you ever been told to do something and not want to do it? Growing up, I would always be told to clean my room, and I would always grumble and complain about it, because I selfishly didn't want my time to be taken away from me. This is the very same idea that we get from the story of Jonah. All of Jonah’s actions show one motive: Selfishness. Jonah let his selfishness get in the way of doing God’s work, and then he let his selfishness cloud his perceiving of God’s gift to Nineveh. How does Jonah show selfishness?
1. Jonah fled from God’s command:
Jonah was a prophet chosen by God. Yet in his story, all we see is Jonah continually doing what he wants rather than God’s bidding. In Chapter 1, we read
“Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” 3 But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.”
God told Jonah to go preach his word to the people of Nineveh, and call them out for their wicked deeds. However, Jonah tried to flee God by sea, because he selfishly did not want to go to Nineveh. Jonah is woken up by the ship’s crew, frantically trying to save themselves from a great storm that God had caused. They decide to cast lots to find out who brought this storm upon them, and it was cast on Jonah. God showed the sailors the cause of their distress. The sailors threw Jonah overboard, and the storm was stopped. We see that Jonah’s selfishness gets in the way of other’s safety. As he was on the ship, the storm was God’s punishment for this selfishness, trying to get Jonah to understand God’s power could stop his fleeing.
How many times do we allow our selfishness to turn into fear? We worry that if we go out and talk to others about God, that they will reject. We let our selfishness turn into fear, just as Jonah did. We must put our selfishness away by trusting in God’s will. We must trust that God’s word will still be spread, regardless of rejection.
2. Jonah resented God’s mercy:
Jonah cries out from the belly of the fish and God spares his life. Jonah preaches God’s wrath to the people, who quickly heard the lesson and changed their lifestyles because of it. God then relented from bringing disaster upon them, and Jonah didn't understand this. Jonah was angry with God’s kindness to the Ninevites because he felt these wicked people deserved God’s punishment:
“And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
Jonah argued that he knew this all along, that God would change His mind because He is forgiving. Jonah felt that God had lied to him. Jonah selfishly wished for these people to be punished. He then tells God to kill him, because he felt he was better of dead than seeing these people live.
This exchange between God and Jonah (4.9-10) reminds me of arguments between children and parents. Jonah bemoans his life to God. God then sternly reminds Jonah that he has the power with Nineveh to choose to destroy or to save, just as he saved Jonah from the fish. As a child I can remember arguments like this with my parents, that because I couldn't have what I wanted, it became the end of the world. My parents would then remind me that it was not the end of the world, and that they could choose to do what they wanted. It was their power over me. Much like my selfishness as a kid to get what I wanted when I wanted it, Jonah is the same way. He wanted the destruction of Nineveh and he wanted as soon as possible.
If we are to be different from Jonah in this instance, we must be willing to understand that God will bless us or punish us as he chooses. God will abide by His own will and His own time. Thus we must trust in God. We must have faith that God’s promises will come true. we must understand that if we are living as God wants us to, then He will reward us as He sees fit. And if we are living a life of sin, then He will punish as He sees fit. Likewise, if we are living in a way we think is right with God, and then get upset with God for punishing everyone that we think are living in sin, then we must fix our attitudes, and understand that God will do as He wills. We must never allow our selfishness to get in the way of God’s will, like Jonah did.