Have you ever had a friend or acquaintance who made a wrong choice for every right choice you made, yet in the end your friend seemed to face none of the consequences you faced? It’s hard to take, watching someone come out smelling like roses when you know the stinky stuff they’ve been rooted in.
If you can relate, then you can empathize with Jonah when God told him to go to Nineveh. Now, that was not just any field of service for the ancient prophet. It was Israel’s greatest national enemy. The Ninevites were citizens of Assyria, a brutal nation to the east, and Israel’s greatest threat.
It’s no wonder that when the people of Nineveh did clean up their act (for a while anyway), Jonah was distressed. How could God sanction the redemption of a country like that? It didn’t seem fair. And in truth, at least from Jonah’s perspective, it probably wasn’t.
It’s tough to just do what’s asked of you and leave the fairness issue to God, isn’t it? It’s hard to see people receive good things when they’ve caused you (or someone you love) pain. Like when your ex-son-in-law remarries or when the disloyal secretary down the hall gets a promotion you deserved. It’s even harder to facilitate their good fortune, like Jonah did. Jesus said to love our enemies, but when it comes right down to it, we’d rather not.
How do we get past our feelings and wish our enemies well? We grace them with the same kind of mercy with which God graced us without expectation of getting anything back in return (see Luke 6:35–36). We focus on God and on the good things he has given us and done for us. The key to countering the envy of another’s fortune is to be grateful for our own. And when we do that, we let go of the part of God’s job that we’d like to do—the finger-pointing. It’s just too hard to do our own work and God’s too. And he does it so much better! Since we don’t have his insight into the hearts and minds of those people we’d like to judge and condemn, it’s better for us to push aside our limited understanding of justice and just trust him instead.
Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”