No Whining: Reflections on Jonah’s Dilemma

Before reading this essay, please consider reading the very short book of Jonah, in the Hebrew scripture. It is right there next to Obadiah and MicahJ

I hate to admit this, but I really can identify with Jonah. He resists God’s call over and over again, simply because he wants his own way. He even puts the lives of his fellow shipmates in danger because of his disobedience. And then when he finally agrees to take the incredible journey God has in store for him and he successfully completes his mission at Ninevah, he whines to God that God did not grant him this success with his own people in his homeland. Even when God provides a large vine to give him comfort and then withers the same plant, Jonah can only find pity for the plant and not for the people of Ninevah. He seems totally oblivious to God’s provisions for him. God has blessed his life and his mission and is giving him more. And yet Jonah can do nothing but whine.

Jonah seems caught up in his small vision of his life, caught up in his own needs and, some would say, in petty feelings. After the two great miracles; living for three days in the belly of a fish and successfully saving Ninevah from destruction, he is still angry because God didn’t do things his way. So in the end Jonah seems like a pathetic but familiar character. He’s so pathetic that I find humor in his consistently whiney behavior.

I find humor that is, until I look at the Jonah-like experiences in my own life. One area of Jonah-likeness in my life is in my way of overlooking what God has done for me. I have had so many wonderful gifts from God and yet it is sometimes easier to focus on my petty grievances.  In my plan to move to an inner city neighborhood near where I go to church, I was lamenting that my condo was not selling, even though it was the worst market in decades, and I was a bit peeved, since this move represented a surrender of my life style and a lot of my “stuff,” a process that was showing me a new freedom I’d never felt. This self-emptying was drawing me closer to God. I felt this move was a calling and yet the selling process became frustrating and anxiety producing. I had a few committed buyers yet no sale. I thought I was doing all the right things and yet nothing was working out.

God stopped me in my tracks and put the sale process on hold, but kept showing me how to live more simply, reminding me of all the incredible deepening experiences we had been through together. It wasn’t this move that would change me, it was God who would change me. God had changed the nature of my work, brought me more meaning and joy, shifted my identity, healed me from unhealthy relationships, granted me deep gifts in prayer, brought me incredible new friends from the margins of society, graced me with new levels of creativity, and provided me freedom from fear of financial insecurity. All these were sheer gifts, and most of them were transformational. Until I could appreciate all of this, it would be useless for me to more forward to any new life.

Whenever I whine and then realize, with chagrin, how faithful and present God is for me, I’m reminded of a powerful painting of Jonah by He Qi, an inspired artist. His paintings shimmer with vibrant color and meaning. In his painting of Jonah’s story he captures the moment that the shipmates are tossing Jonah overboard. Jonah is large, as large as the ship, but beneath it. As you look more closely at the painting, there is another figure that nearly dominates the whole scene, an angelic looking figure above the boat watching over the tragic event at its worst point. He Qi captures the essence of the story for me, that God is there, even at the worst times, working in me and with me, whether I am aware or not, and even when I am whining.

Now when I think about whining, which I still do, I try to embrace my Jonah-likeness and treat myself kindly, perhaps even smiling inwardly when I realize how like Jonah I am. And I also try to reach out to others during these times so I practice compassion for others who have difficulties far worse than mine at the moment.  This is one of God’s finest traits, compassion for us. It is something we can always count on and always draw from, no matter what. At the very end of the Jonah story God reminds Jonah of this compassion and faithfulness with these words, “You have pity on the plant…Should I not also pity Ninevah?”

© Janet O. Hagberg, 2009. All rights reserved.

If you would like to see the painting of Jonah by He Qi go to this web address and look for # 48in the gallery, Jonah.


Reflections on this essay

What do you whine most about?

What gifts from God are you overlooking as you whine?

How does whining affect you and your journey?

How do you show compassion for yourself when you are whining?

What art or story or music reminds you of God’s presence?