When we think of the book of Jonah, our thoughts naturally turn to chapter 1, the action adventure that wowed us as children. But we as adult readers may be surprised by Jonah's anger in chapter 4. Jonah seems unreasonably angry with God's intended mercy toward the people of Nineveh; however, given the extent to which Jonah tried to flee from God's call to minister to the Ninevites, perhaps Jonah's anger is not all that surprising.
The NIV Study Bible, in its introduction to Nahum, has this to say about Nineveh, the capital city of Assyria:
The Assyrians were brutally cruel, their kings often being depicted as gloating over the gruesome punishments inflicted on conquered peoples. They conducted their wars with shocking ferocity, uprooted whole populations as state policy and deported them to other parts of their empire. The leaders of conquered cities were tortured and horribly mutilated before being executed. No wonder the dread of Assyria fell on all her neighbors!
About 700 B.C. King Sennacherib made Nineveh the capital of the Assyrian empire, and it remained the capital until it was destroyed in 612. Jonah had announced its destruction earlier (Jnh 3:4), but the people put on at least a show of repentance and the destruction was temporarily averted (see Jnh 3:10). Not long after that, however, Nineveh reverted to its extreme wickedness, cruelty and pride.
Yes, Jonah had reasons for his anger over Nineveh's repentance. The Assyrians were a vicious group of violent conquerors. God used Assyria multiple times to punish unfaithful Israel. But ironically, in Jonah's grief over God's 'unwarranted' mercy toward these pagans, he conveniently forgot God's mercy toward his own people and, incredibly, toward Jonah himself in his miraculous rescue.
But what about the prophet's anger over the loss of the planet? Angry enough to die over this inconvenience? Did Jonah have anger issues? What was Jonah's problem?
Stewarding emotions has always been a challenge for Christians. Created in the image of God (that's where emotions come from), we often struggle with a proper balance: not letting our emotions run away with us, while making ourselves vulnerable by letting our feelings show.
The fact is that God delights in our emotions. He deliberately created the right-brained side of each of us, female and male. And he wants us, like himself, to feel, to express! and, yes, at times to vent. But we as God's stewards are still accountable for how we handle our emotions. God desires that we as his image-bearers exercise self-control - without becoming lifeless and dull.