When God Asks Jonah "You Mad, Bro?" (Book of Jonah)

Monday, November 21, 2022


Biggest thank you to Sarah for completing this transcript!

TFF 2022 HB Episode 36 When God Asks Jonah: "You Mad, Bro?”

Channing: [00:00:00] Hi! I'm Channing.

Elise: And I'm Elise. 

Channing: And this is The Faithful Feminists Podcast. 

Elise: [00:00:12] We focus on feminist interpretations of scriptures and follow the LDS Come Follow Me manual as a guide for study. We understand scriptures can be a tricky endeavor for readers, but we also believe sacred texts contain compelling examples of loving and liberating relationships with The Divine, others, and ourselves. We hope you'll join us in exploring the problems and promises of sacred texts with imagination, critique, and celebration to reveal what we feel is the loving and liberating heart of scripture.

Channing: [00:00:41] While Mormonism, with its iconic floral foyer couches, is our background, we follow our faith and our God on the winding path of spirituality over institution, and connection over condemnation. We are fellow wanderers, weavers, and doubters. If you’ve found yourself feeling a little too faithful for some and not enough for others: Welcome! We've saved you a seat on the soft chairs. This podcast is funded by our listeners’ generous donations. If you'd like to support our work, connect with us on Patreon or on our website at www.thefaithfulfeminists.com.

[00:01:23] Hi friends. Welcome back to the episode. We're so happy you're here. In this week's episode we'll be covering the books of Jonah and Micah for the dates November 21st through November 27th. In this episode, we're gonna focus most of our attention on the book of Jonah and not as much on the book of Micah, but we really encourage everyone to read both. They're very, very different, but also really valuable. And really quickly before we continue and get right into the story of Jonah, we also want to offer content warning for this episode for suicide. So as always, please listen with awareness and consciousness and care and take really, really good care of yourselves, sweet friends.

[00:02:06] Okay, so who is Jonah? I've been really excited actually about doing this episode. Elise knows, cuz I've been kind of talking about, “ooh, I wonder when Jonah's gonna come up.” I've actually been excited about Jonah since we were doing Doctrine and Covenants, cuz I remember one time I went to a Sunday School lesson and there was some comparisons made with I think the episode that we did about Parley P. Pratt on his high horse going to visit the Shakers. And in that lesson, the story of Jonah was mentioned and some connections were made, at least in my Sunday School discussion. So I've been really looking forward to doing this episode for almost two years, almost a year now. Yeah. So that's really, really exciting. Okay, so who is Jonah? This is kind of, like, back in fairy tale land.

[00:02:59] We get a little bit of folktale/fairytale vibes from the story, for sure. So Jonah is portrayed as a reluctant prophet who flees from God's command to prophesy against the wickedness in the city of Nineveh. And so, you know, we've got this iconic classic Bible story of Jonah being swallowed by the whale, and I think a lot of people, especially those who grew up in the church or grew up on Bible stories, are gonna be really, really aware of the first two chapters of the book of Jonah.

[00:03:29] You know, where he’s like, on the boat, running away, he does a lot of prophesying, you know, gets thrown over the boat, gets swallowed by a whale and survives the ordeal, and then goes on to follow God's command. But I think there's a lot less awareness and a lot less knowledge about, you know, the last part of Jonah's story, so I'm really excited to get into that today.

Elise: [00:03:49] And so the city that Jonah is called to go prophesy against is the city of Nineveh, and this is not just any foreign city. This was also the capital of the enemy, the Assyrian Empire, like the Assyrians who took over and destroyed and kind of fragmented Israel.

[00:04:07] So it's like a high-stakes city for Jonah, and it carries a lot of emotional turmoil and baggage. And we're gonna offer a couple of different ways that we could read or approach this story, but two ways that I've read this story this week that I've really appreciated: one is to view Jonah as a human who is afraid and ashamed and who wants to end his life.

[00:04:28] And the second is to read the story of Jonah as Jonah being a representative of our biased church leaders and prophets. So let's start with the first reading that we came across this week. So this is where we would think of Jonah as a human who is afraid and ashamed and who wants to end his life. And this reading is inspired by the Bible Bash podcast titled “Being Transgender, Being Human — Joy Ladin and the Book of Jonah”

[00:04:53] And Ladin is a transwoman, academic, and author and she shares a few of her thoughts about the book of Jonah. So in chapter one, Jonah receives God's call to go prophesy, but Jonah doesn't want to be the prophet that God knows him to be. Perhaps Jonah feels afraid and ashamed. So Jonah ends up fleeing from God, and hitches a ride on a ship to go to a different city, a city called Tarshish. And this obviously makes God really upset. So God sends this huge storm and everyone on the boat is really freaking out. And instead of calling upon God and agreeing to accept God's call and position as prophet, Jonah thinks that the only way to stop the storm is to sacrifice himself for the good and safety of the other shipmates.

[00:05:41] In chapter one, verse 12, he says, “Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm to you: for I know that for my sake is the great tempest upon you.” Then in chapter two, we see Jonah praying to God from a literal and metaphorical deep, dark place in the belly of this whale. And I can imagine Jonah saying, “oh, I wanted this all to be over. I don't wanna live as a prophet. People are gonna hate me. I know what happens to prophets. They're different and they're mocked, they're beaten, and they're driven out of cities. Please God, why didn't you just let me die?” And after a true wrestle with God in the belly of this fish, Jonah emerges from his dark night of the soul, and we see Jonah perhaps a little bit more ready to accept himself and accept himself as a prophet.

Channing: [00:06:29] Absolutely. And then with this background, Ladin reads from her book titled “The Soul of the Stranger: Reading God and Torah from a Transgender Perspective.” And Ladin writes, “Jonah saved Nineveh. Or rather, enabled Nineveh to save itself by accepting the discomfort and risk of being the prophet he was. Most trans people aren’t visionaries, leaders, or prophets, and someday being transgender will be no harder to understand or accept than other ways of being human. When that day comes, we won’t have to wonder whether we should kill ourselves for the sake of others or pretend to be other than who we are. We’ll face our human share of sorrow and struggle. When we look to religious community for help, we will know that the traditions that sustain, comfort, and guide others are there to sustain, comfort, and guide us, too. But for most of us, that future is still just a dream. And so we daily faced the kinds of choices Jonah faced. Will we run away, sink into despair, throw ourselves into the sea? Or will we live as who we are? Even when that means being seen as different, disruptive, a threat to social order.” We really think that this is a wonderful way to read the story of Jonah, and it offers a far more compassionate and queer centric reading than a lot of the other traditional readings of the story that often discount Jonah as a lazy, lousy prophet.

Elise: [00:08:02] And we think this reading also feels particularly poignant as we are today recording this episode on Transgender Day of Remembrance, which is an annual observance that honors the memory of the transgender people whose lives were lost in acts of anti-transgender violence. And this also feels particularly relevant, having woken up to the news of the mass shooting at a Colorado LGBTQ+ nightclub.

[00:08:28] With all this in mind, we really love a post that we saw from @syrusmarcus, who is an artist, activist, scholar, abolitionist, and professor on Instagram. And as we read this, please remember that our primary role as cisfolks is not only to witness, but to move from witnessing and awareness to action and vow to protect trans folks through things like aid and legislation.

[00:08:52] @syrusmarcus writes “Trans people, gnc people, nonbinary people—today can be tough…so much broadcasting of how many of  us have been killed and in what way. (In some attempt to make cis folks wake up and stop this violence I guess? From their people.) But for us it’s just so hard to hear over and over. Today can be about us mourning our losses, sure, and we’ve had many…but also a day that is about us surviving against all odds. About us living to be elders one day. About activism to ensure our survival. About so much more than statistics. Today can also be about care. Cis folks, send meals, send love, send care. Send f***ing bath boms [sic] and pizza and flower and music and whatever you can. Trans folks— we can be together and show up for each other in new ways today. In the middle of this pandemic. I love you. The future is coming. We will survive this. Trans, gnc, and non binary folks will live long and grow old in the future. We will survive in the future.” And I appreciate this quote, not only because of Transgender Day of Remembrance, but also because I think that it speaks to Jonah as a prophet growing old and surviving into a future that he didn't think he wanted to be a part of. That's a really beautiful way to read this text.

Channing: [00:10:19] The second reading that we'd like to offer is also related to queer issues, but instead places Jonah in the role of the smug prophet. This reading is inspired by, guess who? Reverend Dr. Wil Gafney from her video sermon titled “A Sermon on Jonah: Turn That Motha Out!” In this reading. Gafney argues that we can read Jonah as a prophet who does not think people who are not like him are worth saving. To this point, Gaffney says, “God called Jonah to serve God by serving people who were different from him; people he didn't think could or should be saved.” And if you remember, Nineveh is part of the Assyrian Empire, the same empire who captured, destroyed, and enslaved the Israelites. So yes, we can absolutely understand why Jonah is not a huge fan of wanting to preach to the Ninevites. Gafney continues saying “Jonah has no love for the people of Nineveh himself, so he can't imagine that God loves them. People have a habit of painting their biases onto their portraits of God: gender biases, racial biases, sexual biases, family biases, religious biases… And all too often the people doing the painting are religious leaders like Jonah.” And we see this happen, too, in our own community.

[00:11:44] In the Mormon church, we think that we can absolutely see this happening between church leaders and queer folks. To be totally 100% crystal clear here, we're not saying that queer folks are the Assyrian empire, not even by a stretch, but we are offering the reading that the way that the church leaders want to preach repentance, heteronormativity, and cisnormativity to queer folks in hopes that God will just destroy them is all too relevant in our contemporary world. In fact, I don't know if all of our listeners are aware of this, but there was an interview released with David Archuleta this week, and David Archuleta relays an experience that he had with a general apostle when he came out to him. And this apostle had just said to him, “You just need to marry a nice girl and it'll be okay,” as if that was the easiest solution ever, right, to David Archuleta coming out as queer to this church leader.

[00:12:42] And so, yeah, I think that this is absolutely super poignant as well. And to this part in Jonah's story, Gafney says “Jonah didn't want God to love the Assyrians like God loved him and his folk.” Said differently, church leaders and prophets don't want God to love queer folks like God loves cishet folks.

Elise: [00:13:04] And yet, what does God do? I think this is a great story because God is merciful and compassionate to the Ninevites, and this makes Jonah super pissed off. For example, in chapter four verse one it says, “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly and he was very angry.” And then in verses two and three, we can hear Jonah shouting back at God.

[00:13:28] Jonah says things like, “I knew this would happen. I knew you would just end up saving them in the end. I knew you were just this all-gracious, all-loving God. Like, screw this. I don't wanna live in a world where God has compassion on people who are not like me. Why don't you just kill me?” And God responds, literally, these are God's words: “Doest thou well to be angry?” And to me that sounds like God saying, “Really, you're going to be mad at me for being just and loving and merciful?” And then finally the last verse in the book of Jonah, God says, “Should I have not been concerned with this city, Jonah? Should I have not spared Nineveh, where there are more than six score thousands of people who don't know their right hand from their left. And what about all the cattle? My love for the people, the animals, and the earth shows up in Nineveh.” Thus the story of the book of Jonah starts and ends with God's loving compassion, even when we wish that it wouldn't. 

Channing: [00:14:25] Yeah. The book of Jonah, I think you and I have an appreciation for different types of stories because I often hear you saying, oh, I'm really surprised by this story in portions of the text where I'm like, “Seriously, this?”

[00:14:42] But for me, I'm always so taken with more of these like fairytale-type stories. And so in the same way that I love the story of Job, I also love the story of Jonah because God is so sassy: “Doest thou well to be angry?” Like, seriously, it's just so funny. It's so funny. One of the things that also stuck out for me for this reading was something that we talked about on the podcast before, probably a long time ago, but I think we've mentioned it recently too, is an approach to the text that we call “internalize, don't weaponize.” And this means the experience of readers reading themselves into characters in the text instead of looking at it objectively and really seeking out what lessons or examples we can learn in our own personal lives from the text. And so I kinda wanna explore the story from that angle too. One of the thoughts that tipped me off to this internalized reading was the thought that maybe this entire experience that we read about in the book of Jonah wasn't about Nineveh at all.

[00:15:48] God really could have sent anyone, but instead insisted that the person to go was Jonah. The first two chapters of the book focus on Jonah's firsthand experience. The entire point of the story is not the people of Nineveh, but Jonah. Jonah received the commandment to go prophesy, and ran. Jonah cast himself into the sea and survived three days and nights in the belly of the whale.

[00:16:12] Jonah wrote the entire chapter two, which is also known as the Psalm of Jonah, which is this really poetic lament and acceptance of his call to go preach to Nineveh, and Jonah then gets spit out by the whale. He lands on the beach, he goes to Nineveh and preaches repentance. And then, just like we've said before, it's quite shocking, the story is a little bit shocking because Nineveh actually does the thing. They actually repent. I feel like in a lot of stories that we read most of the time the people don't repent and they end up getting destroyed. And so it was honestly really refreshing to get to experience a portion of the text where the people actually live and listen. That was really lovely. We hear verses in chapter three that say things along the lines of, “The people of Nineveh believed God and proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest of them to the least of them.” And finally in chapter three, verse 10, it reads, “And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil that he had said he would do unto unto them. And he did it not.” And so we read, just like Elise said, that “all is well in Nineveh” and Jonah is none too happy about it. I love that you and I both thought this verse was so funny. Chapter four verse one: “but it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.” So he was a mad, mad boy. And so why, why, why is Jonah mad that the people of Nineveh heeded the call to repent and were saved? We would think that a prophet who goes to preach repentance would be overjoyed that it actually was successful.

[00:18:03] And one reason that we've kind of alluded to in the podcast so far was that Nineveh was in the heart of Assyria, the country that was enemy and conqueror to Israel. And though Jonah was afraid of the city and the people because of their strength, his reasons for prophesying repentance to this people might not have been altogether altruistic.

[00:18:25] Jonah had good reason to hope for the destruction of Nineveh. It could have possibly meant the future freedom of Israel. It might have been that Jonah was as surprised as we, the readers, are by the thorough repentance of Nineveh. Was Jonah anticipating the destruction of his enemies and possibly disappointed, maybe even confused by the mercy of God?

Elise: [00:18:48] And the other thing is that Jonah makes no secret out of his feelings, and we actually really, really love how Jonah approaches his feelings and approaches God. In chapter four verses two and three, it says that Jonah “prayed unto the Lord, and said, was this not my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil. Therefore now, O Lord, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.” And like we said earlier, like in other words, Jonah is saying, “God, I knew you were gonna be the kind of person you're showing to me now, and I acknowledged it then as I acknowledge it now, even when it pains me to do so.

[00:19:35] In fact, the mercy you have given to people I feel don't deserve it is incredibly painful to me. So much so that I would rather die than to witness it.” And God basically responds by saying, “Doest thou well to be angry?” Or like, “I see you're mad. How's that working out for you, bro?” And so Jonah essentially opts out of prophethood now. He's like, “Wow, this is really not going my way, and I don't wanna participate anymore, so I'm gonna go sit outside the city to pout and seeth in my anger and I just wanna wait and see what happens.” And the incredible thing is that God follows Jonah and attempts to teach him about mercy and compassion. In chapter four, we have kind of like a story within a story where God grows a plant over Jonah to offer him shelter from the sun, and then God destroys the plant to expose Jonah to the heat of the day.

[00:20:30] This short story that takes up about like five verses is a type of parable or object lesson meant just for Jonah, but as readers we can't really be sure that Jonah learns it, because in chapter four, verse eight it says “and it came to pass, the sun beat upon the head of Jonah that he fainted and wished himself to die and said, it is better for me to die than live.”

[00:20:53] To which God replies to Jonah again with our favorite verse: “Doest thou well to be angry?” Or, “how is your anger serving you right now?” And Jonah replies, “I do well to be angry even unto death.” 

Channing: [00:21:06] He sounds like a mad teenager. 

Elise: [00:21:09] Yeah. Like, I'm gonna keep being mad even if it kills me. And God replies again, saying, “you had compassion for a mere plant that I made for you, but you cannot conjure up compassion for a people who,” in verse 11, God describes as a “great city wherein there are more than six score thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand and also much cattle.” And we can hear the genuine confusion of God here saying, “Jonah, you can be compassionate and be really sad that this plant died, but you can't be compassionate and merciful toward an entire group of people?”

Channing: [00:21:48] Yeah. Chapter four, the final chapter in the book of Jonah is kind of a tricky one to read, especially because of this parable. People sometimes get tripped up by it. So don't get tripped up by it.

[00:22:04] Just look at it as a mirror within a mirror of the story, kind of as an object lesson to wrap up the last and final chapter. So a couple of things that we are noticing about these final two chapters in particular. The first is that Jonah's faith is not in God alone, but instead in a God so far as this God serves the interest of Jonah's country. It's not in the interest of Israel to see Nineveh saved, and Jonah obviously has great difficulty reconciling what he thought he knew about the justice of God and his actual lived experience of the mercy of God.

[00:22:44] From the story of Jonah, we also may do well to ask ourselves questions like: How does nationalism inform my faith? How does my faith inform nationalism? How are the two ideas separate and how are they similar? How will I navigate experiences when my internalized nationalism is challenged by my faith and the other way around?

[00:23:07] Secondly, we can also take the last two chapters of Jonah and ask ourselves questions about justice and mercy. We can ask: When are we more excited by justice than we are by mercy? And why? Who deserves justice and who deserves mercy? Do I trust myself to discern who deserves what? What is justice? What is mercy?

[00:23:32] These are big questions that the book of Jonah is asking us to grapple with. Third, we really love, like we said before, the way that Jonah brings his full feelings before God. Where in the beginning of his story, he tried to hide and hide his feelings from God, in the final chapter, Jonah is not afraid to not only show his anger and disappointment to God, but to point it directly at God. And God isn't wrathful. Jonah's anger doesn't make God uncomfortable and God doesn't cut Jonah off or destroy him or anything. Instead, God just grows a plant and then destroys the plant and blows the wind and then asks Jonah, how is your anger serving you? And I think that that's a really good question to also be asking in this chapter, how is my anger serving me?

[00:24:21] And we can ask that question a thousand different ways. How is my anger serving only me? Is my anger serving me? What information is my anger providing me? What do I want to do with that information? What can I learn from my anger? And finally, we really think that we can see a huge growth arc in Jonah in the four short chapters that we have in this book.

[00:24:45] This story isn't about Nineveh. This is why I think an exciting reading of the Book of Jonah is instead to read ourselves into it and to do an internalized reading of Jonah's character and his experiences. The Book of Jonah ends on a cliffhanger. We don't know what happens after the plant episode and Jonah continues to insist on dying.

[00:25:08] Does he sit outside Nineveh and weep and wail and gnash his teeth at God's mercy? Does he abandon his faith and wander the rest of his days, still angry? Does he eventually cool off and see that his journey to Nineveh was always only ever about him? Does Jonah understand that God followed him into the wilderness and extended God's mercy to him as much as Jonah would accept?

[00:25:32] Does Jonah cover himself in sackcloth and repent? Bible scholars overwhelmingly agree that there are no lost portions of the book of Jonah. The sudden ending of the book of Jonah is intentional. Perhaps the story is a choose-your-own-adventure tale, one in which you decide how the story ends, and not just for Jonah but also for you.

Elise: [00:26:01] Friends, thank you so much for joining us today for another episode of The Faithful Feminists Podcast. We know your time and space is sacred, and we are so grateful to have spent ours with you. If you enjoyed this episode, we'd be so happy if you left us a loving writing on iTunes and Spotify so other seekers can find us.

Channing: [00:26:20] Financial donations support the many hours of research, work, and devotion to each episode, as well as the everyday cost of creating and publishing the podcast.

You can support us on Patreon or through a simple Venmo donation and help us create a world where creators, artists, activists, and beauty makers are valued and paid for their labor. Find us on those platforms and on Instagram as The Faithful Feminists. We are deeply grateful for your kindness and encouragement.

[00:26:49] We love you so much and we hope to spend more time with you again soon. Bye friends.

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