Then the LORD God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.” – Jonah 4:6-8 (NIV)
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. – James 1:17 (NIV)
When I was a young boy, my mother made me eat things I didn’t enjoy; mostly vegetables like broccoli and lima beans. While at the time thoughts that my mother might be trying to poison me crossed my mind, I learned over time that she was more concerned about my health than I was. Fast forward a few years to a young man going through basic training for the Army. We had a marching song that had an appropriate line: “They’re tearing me down so they can build me up all over again.” The tearing down was a humbling, but necessary process in becoming a disciplined and skillful soldier, and while I would not relish a repeat of those experiences, I am grateful beyond words for how they helped me grow up.
Most of us have experienced this same maturing process where we learn to accept pain, or at least discomfort, to gain some goal we would otherwise be unable to obtain. Jonah experiences something similar in this final chapter of his story. The reluctant prophet at some point in his life decided that proclaiming the truth for God had certain boundaries and limitations. He had set limits on what God could ask him to do, and God spends a good part of Jonah’s short story trying to get him back on the right track.
It would be easy for us to look at Jonah’s apparent stubbornness and pride and think what a horrible failure he was. It would be easy to look at this as a portrait of flawed theology or the error of supposing God views the world through our eyes. But the real challenge is to know ourselves well enough to realize we are all capable of being Jonah, and to know God well enough to realize He will provide exactly what we need to be right with Him.
Like our mothers, God brings things into our lives that may seem unpleasant, but they are beneficial to us. Like a drill sergeant, He commands us to go and do and our obedience should not have conditions or limitations. We are, after all, a volunteer army, aren’t we? Somewhere, sometime God has, or is going to put a worm in our shady vine, or ask us to go somewhere we do not want to go. In those moments, I hope that God will bring to mind the story of Jonah so we will know better than Jonah to keep our eyes on Christ and not ourselves.