Jonah, in the end isn’t about a whale and the man that miraculously survives in its stomach. It is about the wanton and risky grace of God and Jonah’s anger. God’s gracious love makes Jonah angry because it is not only extended to Israel that has ‘earned‘ it, but also to the Assyrians who have lived cruel, violent and oppressive lives, only to be forgiven when they seek God’s mercy. Jonah runs from the suspicion that God will not be the god he wants.
Marx, Freud and Nietzsche all in their own ways, suggested that God was a projection of human wants and needs, and therefore that God does not actually exist. The story of Jonah suggests that while the writers of the First Testament would not have agreed with the conclusion that God did not exist, the phenomenon of humanity projecting its wants and needs onto God was a very real and potentially dangerous reality. They were critical of other peoples and religions that projected oppression and violence onto their ‘gods’ as a way to justify their empire, but they could also be critical of Israel’s similar actions. This is the real purpose of the story of Jonah. It reveals the fact that we all, some extent, make God into an idol, a projection of, and justification for, our own opinions, assumptions, and ideologies.
Sadly there are many examples of this. Christopher Columbus used the Christian faith to justify the colonization of the ‘New World’ he discovered. Both the North and the South in the Civil War assured themselves of justification and victory by claiming God to be on their side. Politicians in the United States have used Bible verses and theological concepts to deny Global Warming. And these are just a sample. Even more sadly, the church itself has done the same thing. Eusebius, the early church father, justified the rule of Constantine with appeals to the Christian Faith. Faith was used to justify the crusades and Hitler used appeals to the Christian faith in his condemnation of Jews. In our own experience we see in our nation and rapidly expanding across the globe a form of Christian faith, the wealth and prosperity gospel, in which the cultural creed of the 80’s and 90’s ‘greed is good,‘ was and is baptized and proclaimed. Faith in Christ will bring financial and material success and security.
Jonah’s experience of God is not comforting, sympathetic or understanding. God is demanding and challenging. Perhaps in the modern American Christian experience, this is the most prevalent form of making God an idol, which is making God a kindly passive grandfather.