Jonah and the Selfie

My youth group has recently got me into Instagram.

I noticed that I didn’t really see any of my youth kids doing anything on Facebook, so I just asked them if they were using social media at all, and if so, which site.  Overwhelmingly their answer was “Instagram”.

So I checked out Instagram.

I have to admit. It doesn’t really make sense to me. There are kids in my youth group who have hundreds of posts, with almost every one of them being pictures of themselves.

Well I tried to get in on the Instagram thing, so I had to start with a post that would identify me as one of them.  So I went for the duck-faced selfie.

For the record, this was more uncomfortable for me to take than it is for you to look at
For the record, the duck-face is extremely uncomfortable to make. Never again.

And with that, my Instagram was started. Now I’m not actually someone that posts a lot of selfies, so as of today, I have 10 posts, and I’m only in one of them (2 if you count my hand in a picture of a rock).

What I’ve noticed in my brief tenure on Instagram, though, is that selfies are everywhere. People love taking pictures of themselves and posting it for the whole world to see.  Instagram provides this place on the Internet where you can take and share all the selfies you want!

Vincent Van Gogh was the master of the selfie. We have 37 legitimate Van Gogh selfies that we know of.
Vincent Van Gogh was the master of the selfie. We have 37 legitimate Van Gogh selfies that we know of. That’s not quite as many as some of the girls in my youth group, but he didn’t have a smart phone.

You can take selfies in any situation. School. Work. The grocery store. Church. There’s even a Tumblr dedicated to people who take selfies at funerals.

It is amazing to me the circumstances in which people will take pictures of themselves. No matter what the situation is, people can find a way to bring the spotlight onto themselves.

In fact, that happens in the book of Jonah.

If you’re not familiar with the book of Jonah, the book starts when God calls Jonah to go to the land of Ninevah and preach against it. Jonah is understandably hesitant to do this, because the Ninevites are known to brutally murder their enemies (and marching through the city telling them they’re all going to die might be enough to grant you enemy status).  So Jonah runs the other way. He climbs on a boat headed as far away from Ninevah as he can.  Long story short, God sends a storm on the sea and Jonah tells his shipmates to save themselves by tossing him overboard. After some hesitation, they do what he says and Jonah is swallowed by a giant fish.

Jonah prays a remarkably self-righteous prayer, considering he’s in the middle of intentionally disobeying God, and then the fish spits him up on dry land, where Jonah is again commanded to go to the Ninevites to preach against them.

This time, Jonah goes. He wanders through the city screaming the message, “In 40 days, you’re all going to die.” and then sets up camp on a hill over the city to watch the ensuing carnage.

Only the Ninevites listen to Jonah.  The king has all the people put on sackcloth and sit in ashes to mourn their sin. He requires all people and animals to fast, hoping that God will spare them from their destruction. And in his infinite mercy, God spares Ninevah.

Jonah is furious. He prays to God and says

“Oh, Lord, this is just what I thought would happen when I was in my own country. This is what I tried to prevent by attempting to escape to Tarshish!—because I knew that you are gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in mercy, and one who relents concerning threatened judgment.  So now, Lord, kill me instead, because I would rather die than live!” Jonah 4:2-3

Jonah hates Ninevah so much that he wants Ninevah to be destroyed. Not only that, he wants to watch it be destroyed. He would rather die than to see Ninevah be forgiven by God.

Then God raises up a vine to protect Jonah from the son. Jonah enjoyed the shade of the plant for a while, and then God appointed a worm to eat the plant, and a scorching wind causes Jonah to get light-headed. And he has this exchange with God:

“It would be better for me to die than to live.”

But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”

“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.”

But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” (Jonah 4:8-11)

And then the book ends.

There’s no resolution of the story. Jonah never says “Oh gee, God, you’re right. I’m sorry. I should be more concerned about the Ninevites than about a plant.”

Nothing.  The book ends and Jonah is still furious that his plant is dead and the Ninevites are still alive.

Because for Jonah, the story isn’t about the Ninevite people coming to know God. It’s about Jonah getting what he wants and being comfortable.  Jonah has taken the story of the grace of God and made it a story about the desires of Jonah.

And God’s reminder to Jonah is one that’s good for all of us.

It’s not about you.

God didn’t ask Jonah to go Ninevah because he thought it would be a good learning experience for Jonah. He asked Jonah to go to Ninevah because he loves the Ninevites and wanted them to turn to him.  Jonah isn’t supposed to be the main character of that story, he’s just supposed to be the communicator.  But Jonah makes the story about him.

It’s like showing up to a funeral and taking a selfie. Jonah takes something that’s not about him and puts himself and his desires at the front and center.

And it’s easy to pick on Jonah for this, just like it’s easy to pick on teenagers who take too many pictures of themselves, but can we really say that we’re not equally as guilty? Can we really look at the story of Jonah and say, “I have never tried to make the story of God into the story of Me”?

I can’t say that. Sometimes, the Tyler story becomes more important to me than the God story. I try to make my character have a bigger role than it ought to have.

In a culture that grows increasingly narcissistic, God calls us to take on a supporting role in a story that’s actually all about him. He calls us into situations we may not want to be in, to teach messages we may not like, to accomplish a purpose that we don’t want him to accomplish.

And the trick is getting out of the way.

At the end of my life, I hope that people show up at my funeral and tell a story that’s more about God than it is about me.  I hope when people look at my Instagram, or my Facebook, or my blog, or whatever that they don’t see as many selfies as they do pictures of God.

May we decrease, so that He may increase to fill every part of our lives.

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