Jonah’s reaction to the Ninevites’ repentance and God’s acceptance of them sheds light on his desire to have run away from God in the beginning. He, in fact, tells us himself: “For I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and that you repent of evil” (Jonah 4:2). This he says before he tells God he would rather die than to live.
“God is on our side” has always been a peculiar saying. The question is not whether God is on our side, but whether we are on his side. It is God who will have his way, not us. We were created in the likeness of God, so we must be like God even in his ways. Thus, God will have his way in us if we are on his side.
If it were a flaw in God’s plan that caused Jonah to feel the way he did, then he would be right in his feelings – but given the story, and given what we know about God (namely, that he is perfect), this is ridiculous. The flaw in the story is not the event that has occurred, but the very character of Jonah. Essentially, he blows things out of proportion because he does not get what he wants, making his own desire the ultimate goal of his life – thus, he wants to die.
For the Ninevites, for Jonah, and for us, constant conversion towards imitation of God is a necessity. If we want to avoid feeling the way we should not feel, the way Jonah did about God sparing the Ninevites, we must constantly improve our character and become more like God, more like the Godman, Jesus Christ. Our Church, then, uses prayer and fasting to accomplish this. We pray and fast to fight evil both exterior to us (whether temptations from the devil or otherwise) and interior (our own inclinations toward sin) in accordance with the Lord’s words: “But this kind [of demon] does not come out except by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:21).
Excerpts from the Liturgy – Wednesday of Ba’utha
“O Painter of the world in paint which does not dull,
cleanse all the filth of error from our mind and heart.
O Maker of body, Breather of the soul,
tighten us well, lest we be slack in temptation.”
“In us you composed height and depth as in one flesh:
mute in our body, rational in soul and mind.
Unravel not this construction you have fashioned,
and may the bind that you have bound never be loosed.”
“Yes, Lord, return us to health of body and soul,
lest we be torn apart by wounds of our disgrace.
Come search for us, like the parable you told us;
let us enter within the flock of spiritual life.”
“Brighten your Face, and seek our straying in mercy,
lest our beauty, stamped in your Name, may decompose.
Rejoice in us, like the younger son you told us,
explain to us, the voice of hope in his story.”
“With the deceitful one, we worked and lost our pay,
and have lived wickedly on swine-pods of desire.
We angered you (though, in fact, you are never angered);
we are unfit to call ourselves sons of your Name.”
“Yes, Lord, tell us that word you told unto David,
and let us turn to penitence, the way he did.”
“Yes, Lord, let pass the faults of your servants, like his,
and let us hear the voice of forgiveness, like him.
David was just, but the evil one entrapped him;
but he turned back and blotted out sin from his heart.”