The unresolved question at the end of the Book of Jonah leads me toward the conclusion that the narrative is unresolved, and yet two key points present an opposition to this. On the one hand, considering the flow of narrative tension, the gentile characters seemingly have a full complete arch, a pleasant comedy. And on the other, the unanswered question at the end of Jonah is seemingly answered by the narrative itself. In three key instances, God is merciful to those under judgment. To the sailors, under the judgment of the storm, God does not hold, as they fear, Jonah’s innocent blood against them, and indeed, there is a bonding between these gentiles and God, a relationship formed. Chronologically, we might move onto Jonah, a prophet who rebelled against God. It is of note that much of the poetic section can be taken literally, that is, whereas a poet might figuratively say that waves passed over him, Jonah actually had, in reality, waves passing over him, and in this poetic chapter two, Jonah declares his own death. From this death, whether figurative or literal, Jonah repents before God saying he will “look again toward [God’s] holy temple,” and God brings Jonah out of the fish and back into the world of the living. And finally, concluding the opening conflict of the book, the city of Nineveh repents from its wickedness, this wickedness being the reason God gives Jonah for Jonah’s mission, and God relents from destroying Nineveh. On a narrative level, there is unresolved tension: God and Jonah are at odds. Yet, there are logically two answers, a binary yes or no, which can be given to this ultimate question, and God has seemingly answered it in the affirmative by His own actions throughout the book.
Taking God as the central character, the mission is accomplished, the wickedness dealt with, and the story is a comedy. Taking Jonah as the main character, his goals are dashed, and it is a tragedy. And in the end, it is unresolved which side the reader will fall on. We don’t know why Jonah didn’t want Nineveh to repent; we, however, know from our own hearts that same meanness; we sympathize with Jonah. I think the story is meant to show this dichotomy between our hearts and God, and in this way it is unresolved, in that aspect of ourselves which tries to have it both ways, tries to hold onto our own bitterness and God’s forgiveness. We are left with Jonah wishing he were dead, wishing to return to that state which God’s mercy rescued him from because he sees that same mercy applied to those he hates. I think the book of Jonah must ultimately fall into the category of comedy, however: In the end, God wins.