One of my favorite temper tantrums of Scripture is found in Jonah 4 – perhaps because I can closely relate to it.
In this final chapter of Jonah, we find him back in the city of Ninevah. After spending three days in the belly of a fish, he goes to proclaim the Word of God to a city of violent, cruel idol worshippers. Even after expressing gratitude for the Lord in saving him, he is still sulking, discontent, and uncomfortable. He fears that the Lord will forgive Ninevah, which we find interesting – this doesn’t seem to be the reaction of a repentant prophet rejoicing at God’s mercy. But Jonah’s sins of unbelief, fear, selfishness, and anger blind him in his uncomfortable state.
Exhausted and frustrated, Jonah pleads with the Lord, “Now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live” (v. 3). I chuckle every time when I read God’s response to his cry: “Have you any right to be angry?” (v. 4, NIV).
In his rich and loving mercy, the Lord provided a vine that grew up and over Jonah, providing shade “to save him from his discomfort” (v. 6). Jonah was pleased and comfortable, but only momentarily. At dawn the next day, “God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered” (v. 7). With no more comfortable cooling shade, the scorching wind and sun beat down on Jonah, making him faint.
Again, Jonah cries out to God in his discomfort, “It is better for me to die than live” (v. 8). And again, God questions Jonah about whether he has a right to be angry.
Four Things to Remember When You’re Uncomfortable
Oh, how similar we are to Jonah, aren’t we? We haven’t faced Jonah’s specific trials, but we still relate to his emotional strife, impatience, and discomfort. In the seasons where strife and suffering have been lifted, we don’t feel the need to be challenged, to rely on the Father, or to thank him for the blessings he’s imparted into our lives. Yet, in our discomfort, we turn away from him, question his sovereignty, and reap unbelief.
We must learn from Jonah: The Lord takes away comfort to open our eyes to his sovereignty.
1. Comfort is momentary and can be unhelpful.
The Lord provided this cooling shade for Jonah to soothe his discomfort, but it was short-lived. As we see in verse 6, Jonah “was exceedingly glad.” This is the only occurrence in Jonah’s story where we read the words “exceedingly glad,” and this is for good reason: He was comfortable.
Jonah was ready for a break, for relief – and on a deeper level, to prove to God that he was right about the Ninevites. I imagine him breathing a sigh of relief, closing his eyes, kicking up his feet, and enjoying a “much-needed, much-deserved” break from the scorching heat and wind. Jonah’s comfort resulted in happiness, but it also presumably shifted his focus away from understanding and accepting the Lord’s provision for his life.
Additionally, it may be that Jonah didn’t even recognize the vine’s shade as a gift. His comfort was a reason to take a break from relying on the Lord. But the Lord puts Jonah in his place when he says, “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow” (v. 10).
2. The Lord is patient when you are not.
Twice (vv. 4, 9), the Lord asks Jonah: “Do you have any right to be angry?” This question isn’t simply asking about Jonah’s emotional state, but it directly reflects his sovereignty over an impatient Jonah.
Jonah says: “It would be better for me to die than to live” (v. 8). Jonah may have been serious or overdramatic when he said this in his uncomfortable state. Regardless of the true meaning behind his words, the Lord chose to have patience with Jonah. The Lord continued leading Jonah into a new understanding of who he was as a sovereign Lord. He patiently explained and never gave up amidst Jonah’s stubborn tantrums.
The Lord had patience with Jonah because he desired to speak to his heart about sin – and he desires the same connection with you. And as we reflect on our own hearts and sinfulness in a season of discomfort, we too can harvest an attitude of thanksgiving to our Lord for his patience with us.
3. Compassion is greater than comfort.
It also seems that Jonah couldn’t fully comprehend (or perhaps, believe) that the author of humanity, the Creator of the world, his heavenly Father, could truly care about all people – including the sinful Ninevites. The scriptures never openly state that the Lord truly was angry with Jonah, but as Jonah wrestled in his discomfort, it felt that way.
The book of Jonah isn’t the only place we see evidence of God’s compassion toward a broken, sin-laden humanity. When Jesus came to earth, his entire earthly ministry demonstrated consistent, patient compassion with sinners. Christ not only interacted with others compassionately, he also instructed his followers to do the same.
2 Corinthians chapter 1 is notably titled “God of Comfort” and is an encouragement to all who proclaim Christ as their Lord and Savior, and all who endure discomfort of any kind:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. (vv. 3-7)
4. God is merciful toward repentant people.
Jonah’s unbelief, pride, and uneasiness caused him to desire death before helping the enemies of his people. He desired judgment, but the Lord had other plans in the name of mercy. Like Jonah, your discomfort is an opportunity to search your heart and repent of your sin – be it unbelief, doubt, anger, pride. But take heart, knowing that even a poorly flawed humanity is so precious to God that he died for us. Jesus, fully God and fully man, died selflessly for cruel Nineveh, for whiny, angry Jonah, and for us.
Jonah thought he knew better than God. But in the end he learned a valuable lesson about the Lord’s mercy and forgiveness, which extends beyond Jonah to all who repent and proclaim Jesus as Lord.
Is Your Comfort a Stumbling Block?
There is nothing wrong with being comfortable — until that comfort makes us seemingly independent from God. Don’t allow comfort to be a stumbling block to your faith. Inevitably, whatever we hold closely as our treasured vine will be eaten away by a worm.
Vine, worm, and wind all come from the Lord, and all are used for his sovereign purpose. In this, we are not only to love the gifts that provide us comfort, we are also to appreciate the merciful, sovereign Lord’s decision to make us uncomfortable, as he guides us in sovereign grace.
I wrote this article originally for Unlocking the Bible on 6.13.16. ©Unlocking the Bible. Used with permission. www.unlockingthebible.org. Unlocking the Bible is the Gospel-centered teaching of Pastor Colin Smith (Senior Pastor of The Orchard in Chicago, IL). The ministry challenges listeners to believe that their lives can be transformed by ‘The Power of the Open Book’ through consistent study of the Bible and a deepening faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ.