The anti-hero is the new hero. Walter White, the mild mannered chemistry teacher turned drug kingpin in Breaking Bad, pulled you in as he ascended the heights of the underground world. Don Draper had you rooting for him during his self-destructive descent over the course of Mad Men’s seven seasons. But the first anti-hero came long before White and Draper.
Jonah was Walter White before Walter White was Walter White. And yet that not how most of us learn the story as children. I still remember hearing the sanitized story of Jonah as a kid. Jonah runs from God, experiences a conversion in the belly of the whale[i], and with newfound fervor converts the metropolis of Nineveh. The end.
The problem with that telling is that the book doesn’t end there at all. While Jonah appears to be legitimately repentant in the belly of the fish, when he arrives at Nineveh, he appears to have lost any fervency for his mission, delivering perhaps the least compelling call to follow God on record: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”[ii] That one-sentence sermon contains no mention of God or repentance or hope. And then when, miraculously, the people of Nineveh do repent and believe God and God spares the city, Jonah is undone in his hate. And that is where the book ends, with the racist, hateful Jonah being reproached by our compassionate God.
Yes, Jonah is no hero. He is the anti-hero of his own book. But unlike most modern anti-hero sagas, which spring up in a wasteland of heroes, there is a hero in Jonah’s book: God himself. The question the book of Jonah asks us is who do we look more like, the hero or the anti-hero?
There are four directives God gives Jonah in the book. We are on the hook for each of these directives, so it does us well to examine Jonah, consider just how similar we are to him, and then repent of the anti-hero in our own heart.
Over the next four weeks we’ll walk through these four directives one by one and with each directive, our response ought to be to examine where our hearts conflict with the heart of God. Like Noah, we are far too often anti-heroes.
Photo credit: Sequart
[i] It was actually a fish, but the children’s versions I remember, he was swallowed by a whale.
[ii] Jonah 3:4