Yesterday I finished preaching through the book of Jonah (listen here). In the last couple verses, there is a powerful contrast where God says to the comfort-seeking prophet, “You pity the plant…” In the next verse God then says, “I pity Nineveh…” The word pity (ḥûs) used here in Hebrew carries the idea of teary-eyed compassion (a great example of what this looks like can be seen in Ezekiel 16:4-5). It’s the idea of a heart that is internally affected by an external circumstance.
Jonah’s heart was internally shattered for the death of his external comforts (the plant). He sought his comfort outside of God, which caused him to be apathetic to the things that matter to God. This is a major cultural sin in the United States as well as here in the United Kingdom. We console our soul with creation fixing our hearts on the temporary pleasures of created comforts. The plant God appointed was here today and gone tomorrow. Life is thus poured out on the momentary and the height of our passions and affections are warped around aspects of creation. The idol of the god of comfort is seen today in Romans 1:25.
At the same time, 2 Corinthians 1:3 tells us that we serve “the God of all comfort” (different from the god of comfort). The God of all comfort comforts us, but his comfort moves us to extend what we are given to others (2 Corinthians 1:4). In other words, when we are comforted by God, we are moved to share in the afflictions of others. We are changed. Instead of apathy and indifference, there is God-reflecting passion and engagement.
Maybe this is why our churches sometimes seem disengaged and apathetic to the call of the gospel as well as some of its social outworkings (i.e. abortion, AIDS pandemic, fosters/orphans). God had pity on the 120,000 of Nineveh. Jonah had pity on a plant. We love our comforts and “can’t be bothered”.
God appointed the dismantling of the altar of comfort in Jonah’s life by appointing a worm and a scorching east wind. It seems in the end, Jonah did repent since the book was likely penned by his hand leaving Jonah as the books anti-hero. It has been said that God comforts the afflicted (as seen here in the Ninevites) and he afflicts the comfortable (as seen here in Jonah). May God do so in our churches until we find that our comfort comes from the God of all comfort and our teary-eyed compassion is shaped by God’s own passion.