"The Secret Life of Jonah" is a book by Timothy Keller. It used to be called "The Prodigal Prophet." Keller shows us the deeper parts of the story of Jonah from the Bible and argues that Jonah was one of the least effective prophets. Still, there are apparent similarities between Jonah, the story of the prodigal son, and the life of Jesus.
Jonah was a prophet talked about in the Bible, in the Book of Jonah. God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, a big city known for bad behavior, and tell the people they were doing wrong. But Jonah tried to escape from God and went towards Tarshish instead.
On his way there, a massive storm hit, and everyone realized that Jonah was the reason for it. Jonah told them to throw him into the sea to stop the storm. After they did, God sent a giant fish to swallow Jonah. He spent three days and three nights inside the fish.
People often see the story of Jonah as teaching about following God's instructions, saying sorry for wrongdoings, and what can happen when someone tries to avoid doing what God asks.
In this part of the Book of Jonah, we find the main point: the hidden reason behind Jonah's actions and tasks. God told Jonah to warn the people of Nineveh, a city known for evil deeds, that they would be punished for their wrongs. An old saying goes, "God doesn't always settle accounts on Saturdays," but in time, He gives everyone what they deserve.
When the people of Nineveh realized their time was up and they were about to face the consequences, they changed their ways. When they stopped doing wrong, God decided not to carry out the planned punishment.
This change of plans made Jonah very upset. To Jonah, God changing His mind was a bad thing — showing how different a person can be from the God they worship. Jonah was so upset that he complained to God in prayer. He revealed why he was so angry: he was upset that God was merciful and kind.
Deep down, Jonah knew God was like this, so he didn't want to go to Nineveh in the first place. He was scared that God would be too forgiving and make him, Jonah, look bad — like a prophet who didn't know what he was talking about.
But we shouldn't think Jonah only cared about his reputation. People are complicated, and they don't act for just one reason. Jonah's most significant issue was that he lacked compassion for others; he was so focused on himself that he couldn't understand God's willingness to forgive.
Jonah was mad at God for what should have made him love God more — because God is kind and forgiving, slow to get angry, and full of love.
The real question is, have we learned what this book is trying to teach us?
Do we believe that God loves everyone, no matter where they're from or what they think, and that He doesn't want anyone to be lost but for everyone to come to Him?
Some people, even if they believe in God's mercy for themselves, don't feel His mercy extends to everyone.
They haven't understood how great God's love is; they think of Him as being too much like themselves. A genuinely kind person who believes in a God who is infinitely more merciful wouldn't be upset by the idea of a vast hope. Even if they can't fully grasp it, it shouldn't make them angry.
We would miss the point of this story if we thought we were kind just because we believe in more extraordinary kindness than others do. We all have a bit of Jonah in us, with our selfishness and indifference to others, as long as we are comfortable and safe.
The better we get, and the more we know ourselves, the more we will want to change Jonah's prayer to something like, "Oh Lord, help me understand that You are a loving God, full of compassion, not quick to anger, and rich in mercy, ready to turn away from punishing."
There is no secret about Jonah's Life. Rather, the tale of Jonah teaches us that God's forgiveness is immense and always available. It tells us that when Jonah didn't follow God's instructions, God didn't give up on him. Instead, He gave Jonah another chance to make things right, showing us that forgiveness is always possible for those who are genuinely sorry and want to change their ways.
This story also highlights the power of admitting our mistakes and the transformation that can come from it. Jonah and the Ninevites demonstrate that when we realize we've gone wrong and decide to change our behavior, we can repair our relationship with God.
Moreover, Jonah's story serves as a reminder to listen to God's guidance. When Jonah ignored God's call, he found himself in trouble, reminding us that avoiding our responsibilities can lead to hardship.
Additionally, the extraordinary events that unfold—such as the storm and Jonah's rescue by a giant fish—reaffirm the belief that God has authority over nature and our lives and that His plans are beyond our understanding.
Above all, the Book of Jonah carries a message far beyond its historical setting. It's a story that tells us about the universality of God's message and love.
It underscores the idea that no one is beyond the reach of God's mercy, and His grace is available to every person who seeks Him, regardless of their past or where they come from. This story isn't just a religious lesson; it's a universal call to recognize the boundless love available to us all.