Jonah: my favorite angry guy in the Bible

Anger is an intense emotion that sometimes comes without warning or justification; however, learning to question the sources of anger can provide healing.  In the moment of anger, you are not likely to rationally evaluate these questions but returning to them later can help you to manage your anger in the future.

The story of Jonah is familiar (he is the guy who was swallowed by a big fish and spit out three days later) but if it has been a while, review the four short chapters found in the Old Testament in the Book of Jonah.  The Bible is filled with practical stories of people who struggled with the same things you struggle with today and provides practical application to your daily life. 

Who was Jonah angry with?  Initially, Jonah’s anger and deep prejudice towards the Assyrians who were the enemies of the Israelites was revealed by his reluctance to go to Nineveh, the capital of the Assyria.  Many years earlier, the Assyrians had invaded Judea and scattered the Jewish people across many nations.  Later on, Jonah’s anger expanded to God himself when he complained that God spared the lives of the Assyrians instead of killing them with His wrath for destroying Judea.  Just like Jonah, the initial person we direct our anger towards may not be the true source of our anger.  Asking questions such as “Who am I really angry with?” and “What previous time does this anger remind me of?” can go a long way in helping to reveal the true source of anger.

What was Jonah angry about?  Jonah knew of God’s love and mercy which is why he did not want to go to Nineveh in the first place.  He did not want God to spare the lives of the Assyrians; instead he wanted God to show his wrath and eliminate them.  When Jonah finally conceded and went to Nineveh, he did so with the expectation that God take his revenge on the Assyrians.  Jonah did not want good to come to the Assyrians, he wanted harm.  Sometimes we too become angry when good comes to those whom we believe should be harmed or punished for their actions.  This is all too evident when a child becomes a victim of some evil, especially at the hands of someone they trust.  Ask yourself the question “What am I really angry about?”  Often it is not the most obvious answer; rather it is the answer behind the initial response.

 How did Jonah show his anger?  Jonah traveled in the opposite direction of Nineveh.  We call this passive aggressive anger which is doing the opposite of what another person wants you to do because you are angry with them.  Jonah then told the sailors to throw him overboard instead of going back to shore; basically he would rather die than do what God asked.  We call this aggressive and/or extreme anger which is acting in a manner to draw attention to yourself and your anger.  When Jonah finally agreed to go to Nineveh and preach, he did it reluctantly as demonstrated by his response when God forgave the Assyrians.  We call this suppressing anger which is ignoring the anger initially in order to keep the peace or obey someone but then becoming angry later.  Ask, “How do I show my anger: is it passive aggressive, aggressive or suppressive?”  Revealing your pattern of behavior when angry can help to identify times when the anger is not so obvious.

Where did Jonah show his anger?  At the beginning of the story, Jonah showed his anger to the shipmates when he asked them to throw him overboard.  His initial reaction to his anger was not the best.  At the end of the story, we see Jonah going outside of the city to complain to God about his generosity which is a far better alternative.  Often times, going away from the environment that makes you angry can help you to have a greater perspective on the true source of your anger.  Notice that Jonah was honest with God about his anger and did not cover up his feelings.  True prayer and communication with our Creator requires honesty on your part and in turn, God will communicate with you.

You can answer the “why” question of your anger better by answering the “who”, “what”, “how” and “where” questions regarding your anger first.  True anger management can only begin when we understand the sources of our anger and learn how to cope with intense feelings of emotion.  If you are struggling with your anger, talking with a counselor can help to shed some light on how to manage your anger.

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