Under the unpredictable plant

One last thought on Jonah...

Over the last year, I've benefitted a lot from Eugene Peterson's Under the Unpredictable Plant: An exploration in vocational holiness. He had some really insightful things to say about the Jonah story and it's connection to me as a pastor. And I love the way he connects the unpredictability of the plant in chapter 4 to our unpredictable God.

Let's focus on the interaction between Jonah and God in Jonah 4 (Chap. 5 of UtUP). If you remember, after Jonah preaches to Nineveh and they repent, he wanders off to a mountaintop to wait and see if God will destroy the city. As Jonah talks to God on that mountain, God uses a plant as an object lesson for Jonah (we skipped this part in Large Group). The plant grows and dies, making Jonah first happy, then angry. God then asks Jonah if he has any right to be angry, echoing a question posed earlier in the chapter (Can you find it?).

And then God - lovingly and humorously - prods Jonah to reconsider his attitude. Though Jonah did nothing to make the plant grow or die and though the plant only lived a short time, Jonah had a great deal of compassion for it. God then points out that Nineveh has thousands of residents who don't know their right hands from their left (children?) and many cattle as well. Many cattle as well! C'mon Jonah, you can't hate the cows - they're made of meat!

In all of Jonah's journeying and adventures he was still a stranger to grace. How often do we sit on a mountaintop, lamenting the loss of something we had only by grace?

It is appropriate, I think, from time to time, for us to examine our lives, looking for our unpredictble plants, searching our hearts for areas that have been hardened by the loss of a possession we had only by grace.

It is also appropriate, and perhaps wise, from time to time, for us to ask ourselves "How do we respond to our unpredictable God?" If an experienced prophet can miss God's bigger picture and be captured in bitterness by a small imagination, then I'm in trouble. Thanks be to God: who pursues me, even when I leave my place of calling to pout on a mountaintop; who corrects me, even when I lash out to him in response; who graciously loves me, even when I'm still unsure whether or not I love his grace.

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