Is God A Whore?

The Jonah story always seemed so unrealistic to me. And surprisingly, it had nothing to do with a giant fish swallowing a grown man. You see, growing up in the tradition I did, I had no problem believing Jonah spent a few days setting up shop inside a giant fish. But I did have trouble believing that anyone would be mad that a whole group of “unreached” people repented and turned to God.

If you have only seen the VeggieTales version of the Jonah story, it might surprise you that the story is actually pretty complex. There are many ways to read the story, some more fascinating than others. One recent reading of Jonah suggests that it is a love story. Jonah is the jilted lover who is “cast” from the presence of God, that adulterous deity who is now whoring after the Ninevites. Whoa. Never learned that one in Vacation Bible School.

But the main point of reading the story in this way is this: If God is in a marriage-like relationship with Israel, why does he demand absolute faithfulness from the Israelites while he is free to go “whoring” after other nations, especially Nineveh? After all, Nineveh is the capital of the empire that has (or will, depending on when Jonah was written) conquered Israel and sent them into humiliating exile? How could he? This is just salt in a gaping wound. No wonder Jonah is upset at the end of the story. His husband has told him that if he cheats, he dies, and yet he has to sit back and watch as God pursues a relationship with his sworn enemy and oppressor. And God wants Jonah to help!

Instead of rejoicing when these Ninevites are introduced to the Creator, Jonah throws an elaborate pity party, complete with whining, complaining, and requests for death. Why should Jonah be happy that his spouse has just committed adultery?

This story sounds very familiar to a story Jesus tells several hundred years later. In this story, “Nineveh” is now a “prodigal son” and Jonah is now the “older, righteous brother.” And God is the father of both. Nineveh is the son who went to a “distant land” and now, while Nineveh is still a long way off, the father is filled with compassion and runs to it. The older brother’s reaction speaks to the heart of both stories:

28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’” (Luke 15:28-30)

I am not the first person to come up with this comparison. But most would say the moral of the story is “We should show mercy like God.” But I think these stories require us to ask the deeper heart question: how am I relating to God? That is to say, why am I in this relationship with God anyway? Unfortunately, when I asked myself this question, I find myself, and many congregations, looking a lot like Jonah.

After painfully digging deep in my heart, I realize that the real reason I want people to follow many of the morals and rules of Christianity, and the reason I get offended when they don’t, is not because I love Jesus or because I want what is best for them, but it’s because I don’t want to admit that God might accept them just as much as me. I am secretly Jonah. I am secretly the older brother.

God loves those no-good rule-breakers just as much as he loves me and it pisses me off. That means all of my rule-keeping hasn’t earned me a privileged status before God, it hasn’t made me the “favorite son” of my Father. Jonah’s finger-pointing shows that his love for God was really only a mask for his love for himself. He only loved God because in return he got the pride of knowing that the Creator loved him in an exclusive way, a way he didn’t love others.

And so it turns out that whether or not we see God as the adulterous husband or the benevolent Father depends not on God, but on us. If we do not understand grace, then we will jealously defend our marriage to God as exclusive and we will become furious when he cheats on us with others. But if we do understand grace, then we will revel in his love for all humanity, running alongside him to the broken prodigal.

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3 responses to “Is God A Whore?

  1. Wasn’t the basic OT standard for marriage that the husband was free to take as many wives as he cared to? Perhaps being a man Jonah wouldn’t be thinking of being on the other side of that felt..

  2. Jared,
    Take a look at John 7:35, John 12:20-26, Acts 10, Acts 11:19-21 and Acts 22:21-22

    Jews being jealous of Gentiles is not a new idea. In the Body of Christ it amounts to sibling rivalry not adultery. Yes, Israel was God’s wife, but we are His children. Christ, as far as I can tell, has one bride, but she is not a thorough-bred; she’s of mixed heritage. How long has humanity struggled with that prejudice?

    I can no longer read the old covenant and not find my messiah and his hope on every page. God had mercy on Lot, Hagar, Jacob, and even Laban. None of them deserved it, but neither do we. Grace was there from the beginning, even in the garden.

    I think the word “hover” in Gen. 1 that is translated into English has the meaning in Hebrew, like a parent over his/her child.

    Just tell your kids God loves them more than you do. That means he loves us whether we obey or not. When you have teenagers, they will disobey you; they may even break your heart, but you will still love them. You would probably even die for them.

  3. The saved exist for the good of–to bless–the unsaved. So the church doesn’t exist for the church (in an unequivocal sense, at least).

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