[I couldn't find this devotional at the beginning of this quarter. When I found it, I decided to revise it for my blog. I hope you enjoy.]
In Tyler Perry’s Diary of a Mad Black Woman, Helen Simmons-Carter (Kimberly Elise) certainly had good reason to be angry with her husband (whom she supported through law school and for whom she delayed her own dreams) when he decided to cast her aside for a younger, gold-digging woman. Charles (Steven Harris), Helen’s husband, moved the other woman into their home while throwing Helen out. Helen declares at one point, “I’m not bitter. I’m mad as hell.” Her anger permeated her entire being causing her to lose the compassion and love her husband admired in her when he was sane. When her anger turned to madness, she dumped a paralyzed and filthy Charles (she refused to clean him at first), wheelchair and all, into a tub full of water; she watched with fiery eyes as he gasped for air in vein and the air bubbles diminished. I remember being horrified thinking “surely she is not going to let him die” ~easier to say from my sofa. Later when Charles regains his sanity (the other woman abandoned him after his stroke and she couldn’t get his money) he says to Helen, “Even though I almost destroyed it, I know you still have a heart.” The pain of betrayal and of being cast aside like a soiled dish rag can be so unbearable that a woman (or man) cannot see beyond the spoken and unspoken decree that people who act wickedly deserve nothing more than wickedness, even after they change their ways. And we feel it is our duty to deliver the blow and God’s duty to back us up.
Many of our emotional and relationship problems stem from anger. Anger can manifest as ungratefulness, grudge holding, jealousy, hatred, alienation, depression, self-righteous indignation, and annihilation – a desire to take life or to give up on life. We even become angry with God (or the God in front of us; the one we can reach out in touch in the one who hurt us or in ourselves) like Jonah. The first time we know that Jonah is angry is when the narrator tell us so. The second time is when God asks Jonah “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” Jonah, answers ‘Yes, angry enough to die”. Jonah’s anger morphs into an emotional rant about his desire to die. We have been here before with Jonah, have we not? Jonah’s only responsibility was to preach the word God gave him; to make the presence of God audible, as Abraham Heschel would say. The people’s response; God’s actions were not in Jonah’s control. Yet, he is angry enough to want to die over things about which he was given no control. Jonah had only to enjoy the shade of the bush while it lasted; he did not create the bush nor the worm. Again, he is angry over things he could neither create nor destroy.
This is the second time, Jonah wants to die. When God changed God’s mind, Jonah’s anger boiled over sinking himself into a deep, annihilating depression. God acted with hesed – showing mercy, compassion, and/or loving kindness. The God Jonah knew proved to be the same God as described by the urban dwellers in Nineveh. Only the “righteous”, the familiar, those who share our name deserve the depth of God’s mercy. We don’t always like a God who let’s people bounce back from wickedness without apparent consequences.
Jonah’s minimalist, pithy sermon, “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be overthrown,” resulted in the repentance of an entire city. We preach for hours and nobody and nothing changes. It is the power at work, not the length and intensity of the sermon. Those few words were the Presence of God audible.
God can do as God pleases in the space of a people’s lifetime – as long as one lives God can redeem. God is concerned and sits among foreign peoples. Don’t confuse the message of the prophet with the God who sent the prophet. I may want you to suffer and die for your wickedness as proof of my calling; But God wants you to live as a testimony God’s power and God’s being.
When God “changed God’s mind” about the bush he sent to shade Jonah from the hot sun, Jonah again got so angry he wanted to die. It’s not about the bush; it’s about a God who can by any means and at any time protect and save under any circumstances. The bush and the worm manifested the activity of God; Jonah was to reveal God – and God is more than six words, even if they come from God. God’s goal is never destruction but redemption. Doom is never the last word about God. God does not throw mercy to the wind when he sits in judgment.
When Great Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown spoke to a joint meeting of congress in early March (2009), he made an intriguing statement: “judgment is a summary court in perpetual session.” While we may have issued a verdict and are ready to execute the sentence, God’s court is still in session. PM Gordon Brown continued that he learned from attending his father’s church as a young boy that when there is hardship and suffering, we will not and cannot pass by on the other side. Wickedness cannot be divorced from human suffering. God sent Jonah with a message not so that he might warn before striking them with lightning; but to relieve the suffering resulting from their wickedness – the prophet (or the woman or man of God) is the person who does not pass by on the other side of the street. God heard cries imperceptible to others; and communicated a response through God’s prophet. The prophet cannot lose sight of the foresight and compassion of God. Do not confuse sinners in the hands of an angry God with sinners in the hands of an angry prophet(ess). If only the depth of our anger about things matched the dept of our mercy and love for all God’s children – Women, Children, and Men; Heterosexual or Homosexual; American, European, Middle Eastern, etc.; Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, etc. It’s not about the Bush; its not about the angry prophet. It’s about people in the hands of a merciful God.