The Jonah Complex

This morning the reading from Jonah at Mass got me to thinking about what I am going to call the Jonah Complex.  The reading itself didn’t actually cover the complex but reminded me of the story in its entirety and the more I thought the more I got drawn into pondering on the complex.

You know the story, God asks Jonah to go to Nineveh and tell them to change their ways or God will destroy the city, Jonah first of all decides to flee and ends up in a large fish, finally he goes and does as God has asked and all the people great and small repent.  These two elements of the story are often majored on, but it was the is the final part of the tale, the Jonah Complex that has been travelling with me all day.  The notion that when God turns bad into good, when God’s promises come true, we fall out with God.  In Johan’s case it is how dare God not destroy Nineveh, the fourth and final chapter of the book.

Jonah was furious. He lost his temper. He yelled at God, “God! I knew it—when I was back home, I knew this was going to happen! That’s why I ran off to Tarshish! I knew you were sheer grace and mercy, not easily angered, rich in love, and ready at the drop of a hat to turn your plans of punishment into a program of forgiveness!  God said, “What do you have to be angry about?”  But Jonah just left. He went out of the city to the east and sat down in a sulk. He put together a makeshift shelter of leafy branches and sat there in the shade to see what would happen to the city.  God arranged for a broad-leafed tree to spring up. It grew over Jonah to cool him off and get him out of his angry sulk. Jonah was pleased and enjoyed the shade. Life was looking up.  But then God sent a worm. By dawn of the next day, the worm had bored into the shade tree and it withered away. The sun came up and God sent a hot, blistering wind from the east. The sun beat down on Jonah’s head and he started to faint. He prayed to die: “I’m better off dead!”  Then God said to Jonah, “What right do you have to get angry about this shade tree?”  Jonah said, “Plenty of right. It’s made me angry enough to die!” God said, “What’s this? How is it that you can change your feelings from pleasure to anger overnight about a mere shade tree that you did nothing to get? You neither planted nor watered it. It grew up one night and died the next night. So, why can’t I likewise change what I feel about Nineveh from anger to pleasure, this big city of more than 120,000 childlike people who don’t yet know right from wrong, to say nothing of all the innocent animals?”

translation – The Message

I have seen such reactions in churches towards individuals, towards vestries, towards clerics and towards whole congregations.  The astonishing thing is that these reactions often come about after prayer has been answered in a positive way.  People want help with something, so they pray to God, one presumes that such prayer is done in faith and with some kind of hope that God will respond.  However, when God then has the audacity to hear and respond to their prayers and make things better the complex kicks in.  People get all indignant about the fact they no longer have that particular thing to grumble about.  They grumble even more about it than they ever did while it was still around.  They grumble about the fact something has ‘changed’ even if it is a change for the better.  They grumble about the fact the old problem isn’t there any more.  They grumble about all the ways in the past they had tried to solve the problem and failed.  They grumble to God and to each other.  Sometimes they, like Jonah, even grumble about the fact that because the problem is no  longer there they look foolish in some bizarre way.  They sulk as Jonah sulked and they grumble about the conditions that they sulk in.  Such displays aren’t restricted to God’s people, oh no, it is almost as if it is part of the human condition.  To grumble when things are bad and grumble some more when they are put right.

For people of faith it could be said it is back to that old adage

‘Be careful what you pray for, because you might just get it.’

In this season of Lent we are often inclined to associate ourselves with the people of Nineveh, our need to repnet, but we shouldn’t forget Jonah, not just his running from God, but also his complex.  For when Lent ends; I know it isn’t long started but that is all for the good as it gives us time to work on this; for when Lent ends we need to be fully prepared to live in the light of the risen Son and not be tempted back into Lenten woes.  Ready to rejoice for ourselves and for others.  Ready to put the past behind us and leave it there.  Ready to celebrate all the good things God has done, all of them.

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