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It's not easy these days to figure out what it means to be a servant of the Word in the church. Anti-servant models are promoted daily among us as pastors, teachers, and missionaries. In the crisscross of signals and voices, I pick my way.
William Faulkner once said that writing a novel is like building a chicken coop in a high wind-you grab any board you find and nail it down fast. Being a pastor is also like that. Recently I came across Jonah, and grabbed on. He has turned out to be useful in this vocation-clarifying task.
The Jonah story is a favorite everywhere. Children commonly love this story, but adults are also fascinated with it. Outsiders who have minimal knowledge or interest in our Scriptures know enough about Jonah to laugh at a joke based on the story. And scholars, stuffed to the gills with erudition, write learned articles and books on it. Its influence can be seen in such diverse progeny as Pinnochio and Moby Dick. I got the book at both ends of my educational spectrum: I can remember flannel-graph presentations of the story in my Sunday school in Montana; twenty years later in New York it was the first book that I was to read straight through in Hebrew. It was just as interesting in Hebrew as it was on flannel-graph.
I want to hold up a single scene in the Jonah story, the final scene-Jonah quarreling under the unpredictable plant, quarreling with God.
Quarreling with God is a time-honored practice: Moses, Job, David, and Peter were all masters at it. Those of us in ministry get a lot of practice in it because we are dealing with God in some way or other most of the time, and God doesn't behave the way we expect.
Jonah is quarreling because his idea of what God is supposed to do and what God in fact does differ radically. Jonah is angry. The word anger occurs five times.
Anger is most useful as a diagnostic tool. When anger erupts in us, it is a signal that something isn't working right. There is evil, or incompetence, or stupidity lurking ...