As time goes on, God begins to get comfortable in his promotion to The One True God. There’s been some initial trial and error, of course—these things never go as smoothly as one would like—but God is starting to understand the expectations and demands of ‘His People’, though it’s still hard for him to think of them as that. He’s not accustomed to the idea of owning a large, migrating, group of humans. They are not only capable, but arguably obsessed with, independent thought. They never go where he sends them, and instead spend ages wandering the desert following each other’s bizarre whims. Sometimes it’s all he can do to keep them fed and watered. And he still feels a bit confused by the idea that he’s The One True God, particularly since it’s common knowledge that there are many such gods and goddesses. But, that’s what they call him, and who is he to argue. He is excited that they are finally creating real relationship! ‘His People’ check in regularly through prayers and dreams and he’s coming to genuinely like a few of them, especially the one’s that smell good. No matter how many times he tells them to bathe, most of them take it as a metaphor or assume he’s talking to someone else.
Recently, God’s been receiving a lot of complaints about a neighboring town: Nineveh. And this is where his current dilemma rears it’s golden bovine head. God wants, really wants, to live up to the expectations of the ‘His People’. But the people of Nineveh are not, strictly speaking, ‘His’, even if he accepts that some are. The Nineveh residents do not go around worshiping him, or even bragging about The One True God. Most of them worship Ishtar.
In truth, God’s always had a thing for Ishtar, a full-figured goddess with long, thick, auburn hair, olive skin, and eyes like embers dancing in a fire. God thinks it’s a shame that she’s in a committed three-way with her sister and Tammuz, even if it is an open relationship. She deserves better. She’s so much more appealing and reasonable than the other gods and goddesses in the region who spend their time goading chubby people into overeating and seducing cattle off cliffs.
In any event, if the people of Nineveh “belong” to anyone, and God remains unconvinced of this, it’s Ishtar. And he’d never want to steal from her or destroy her “things,” if they can be called that. What’s a God to do: Live up to the inappropriate expectations of ‘His People’ and criticize the folks of Nineveh, whom he, frankly, admires for their bohemian flare; or let ‘His People’ down by ignoring their pleas?
God thinks back, remembering the debacle in Sodom and Gomorrah. That was a similar situation and, while it didn’t really go according to plan and God wasn’t wholly happy with the outcome, it had been navigated and certainly had some lessons to be garnered. Reflecting, God realizes his takeaways are thus: choose a decent human who is motivated by things other than alcohol and incest; don’t ask said human to prove anything—just tell him or her what to do and say; demonstrate integrity in said words and deeds; model respect and appreciation for differences rather than bending to demands to condemn others; respect other Gods and Goddesses, while doing his best to serve ‘His People.’ After all, the whole thing might have been avoided if he’d just flown to the islands and consulted with Dionysus directly.
God considers and decides that, as long as he has to do something—and he feels he does—he wants to model good behavior and demonstrate positivity and appreciation for other cultures. After giving it some thought, he realizes that he’d like to work with Jonah. Jonah’s a nice, unattached, young man. He has no immediate obligations, and who knows, he might find himself an exotic wife, like Ishtar, on the trip. Plus, his dad, Ammittai, will be happy to provide the personal resources to travel to Nineveh without undue financial hardship. God will just chat with him in a pleasant dream and everything will be taken care of.
Plus, Jonah smells great. Not only does he bathe regularly, the youth enjoys enhancing his aroma with a sweet smelling substance he harvests off local trees. It’s quite appealing. So God appears before the boy. The youth has harvested some flax leaves and is standing over a well gazing at his reflection while using the cellulose to scrape away the odd bits between his teeth. “Wow,” God thinks. “This one really is a leader in the world of personal hygiene.”
After inhaling deeply to see if the boy’s wearing that sweet sap he likes so much, God bellows “Jonah,” in his deepest booming voice. It’s important to keep up appearances. Lucky for the young man, his bone-sharp incisor slices through the flax preventing him from ripping his tooth out. He catches himself, unfortunately by the cheek, on the well’s edge then crouches down and looks around, but sees no one. He creeps backwards, away from the well—and shaking in terror—as the skin on his face blooms into a lovely purple flower.
God feels terrible that he’s frightened the poor youth. He wants to put the boy at ease. “Jonah,” God repeats, wanting to get to the point before anything else goes awry. “Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim judgment upon it; for their wickedness has come before me”. God always tries to remember to use his ‘professional voice’ when talking with ‘His People.’ God hopes that Jonah will understand that God is not angry; he just wants Jonah to do him a solid.
Jonah, however is in a state of sheer panic. He’s never been one to get on board with the whole ‘God’ thing and is strongly suspecting, with the wee part of his reptilian brain that is still functioning, that he is in imminent danger of becoming completely insane. Taking a few deep breaths, he decides to just roll with it. “Sure,” he responds, “I love a road trip.”
“Great!,” God says. He figures he’s fulfilled his directives: good human; straightforward command. He’s in his integrity and doing his best to serve ‘His People’. Now he just needs to demonstrate appreciation for cultural differences. First, God thinks, he’ll speak with Ishtar to be sure they’re on the up and up and she knows that Jonah’s dropping by for a quick hello. God secretly hopes that Ishtar will throw another awesome dance party like the one she threw last time Tammuz came home. God remembers fondly how, at the end of the evening, they overturned all the tables and made a slippery-slide on the wet dance floor.
God heads to Ishtar’s alter, an intricately formed statue built into a cave. He always feels bad when he thinks about her actual beauty compared with the lumpy ‘likeness’ of her housed in a hillside; It’s not like her at all. But she does respond immediately when he calls to her from there.
Jonah, however, continues to spasm and twitch for about an hour. Eventually, he decides that he may be able to cure his obvious mental illness if he takes a nice, long vacation. Obviously, the strain of puberty has been too much for him, and his aromatherapy is not working the miracles he’d hoped. Jonah goes to his dad whom, having had a powerful dream, agrees that he should take a trip and swiftly hands him lots of cash. So Jonah decides to visit Tarshish, where he used to vacation when he was a child, to reinforce his fragile sanity. The youth heads first to Joppa to catch a boat.
Unfortunately, having stopped several times to run cool water over his now enormous facial bruise, Jonah arrives an hour too late. He has missed the boat. Jonah hates that thought . . . If only it hadn’t become an expression of failure. At any rate, he is determined to succeed, and the first step is recovering his sanity. He commissions an entire crew, complete with ship, and sets course to Tarshish.
Meanwhile, God is chatting up Ishtar. He called from her alter and she descended immediately. He handed her a bit of sap he’d collected on the way, and encouraged her to spread it behind her ears, as Jonah did. Unfortunately, it smelled a bit sour and acidic. He’d have to remember to ask Jonah what that stuff he used was called.
In any event, Ishtar seems thrilled to see him. This, more than anything, makes God feel powerful. She invites him in and suggests that she “slip out of something uncomfortable,” noting that she prefers not to wear clothing during the six months when Tammuz is off with her sister.
Good thing she’s immune to thermal conditions, she remarks, being a Goddess. Her half-husband does his best to ensure frigid weather whenever he’s out of town.
Luckily, Tammuz is fairly incompetent when it comes to temperatures and rarely manages frost, despite his significant efforts. It’s difficult to keep things cold above when it’s getting hot for him down below . . . but she doesn’t like to think about that. In any event, she seems glad, very glad, that God has come to call.
“Ishtar,” God says, trying not to do a full body check, “how lovely to see . . . I mean . . . talk with, you.”
“Thank you, God. It’s my pleasure,” Ishtar notes, smoothing the lack of fabric on her thigh. “What can I do for you?”
After a moment of being lost in thought, God remembers why he’s here. “Well, I’m getting a lot of requests these days regarding your people in Nineveh. I don’t know if I’ve ever told you how beautiful I find your city: truly one to be proud of. And irrigation! However did you think of it?! I really could not admire your work more. And yet, ‘My People’ seem discontent. They always get that way when they’ve been wandering too long. If only I could somehow get it through their heads to ask for directions . . . ”
“Anyway, I’ve told a lovely young man, named Jonah, to visit Nineveh, and let ‘Your-People’ know that I’ve noticed their admirable lack of inhibitions—I called it wickedness, because I remember that you told me how you like to be wicked” he said, leaning over and casting her a tentative glance while blushing and smiling seductively, “and I approve. If only ‘My People’ would relax and let loose more they might be a bit happier. I want Jonah to let ‘Your People’ know I admire their party atmosphere. And I want to set an example of positively acknowledging other, divergent, cultures. In any event, I just wanted to let you know that he’s on his way . . . If truth be told,” God admits, “I’d absolutely love to throw another fantastic dance party.”
“Why, thank you, God. I’m flattered! And I’d love to have a dance party. I’ll see if “My People’ are into it. But even if they aren’t, I can assure you that I am. And sending ‘your boy’ to compliment our culture is such a thoughtful thing to say and do! I know I’m grateful that you’re so close at hand,” Ishtar replies, taking his hand and clasping it to her chest.
God blushes even deeper and starts fiddling with the edge of his tunic. “I . . . I . . . know . . . I’ve asked before, Ishtar . . . but are you sure you’re not barren?”
“No,” Ishtar replies in a deep, throaty voice, leaning in so close that God is nearly overwhelmed by the acrid scent of the sap he’d brought her, “I’m as fertile as can be.
You know, I am a fertility Goddess.” She beams proudly, puffing out her significant chest.
Sighing deeply and dropping his gaze, God thanks Ishtar, kisses her on the hand and departs. He desperately wants to look back, but that would that just would not feel right after the salt thing, so he leaves without seeing her crest fallen look. She’s so perfect, God thinks, if only she were barren . . .
God goes to check on Jonah: to make sure the boy’s not wandering the desert like his ancestors. God cannot believe his eyes when he finds the kid on a boat to Tarshish. That’s entirely the wrong direction! There has to be a way he can introduce a gene that will stop those people from getting perpetually lost. God feels bad about that thought. He judges his goding harshly. He’s noted that they are ‘His People’ when they’re doing all right, but that he immediately thinks of them as ‘those people’ when they are doing something . . . creative. He vows to work on his own proclivity to judge. It’s important to set a good example.
In an attempt to be helpful, God attempts to turn the boat around. He calls and calls upon the sea, but the best he seems to do is to create a bitter storm. And the humans just row on, paddling ever harder. They are apparently better at moving across the sea than God is. In fairness, he has always been a God of the desert. In any case, God recognizes that he’s out of his element and vows to learn to walk on water as soon as this trip is over so this kind of thing won’t happen again.
Soon the frightened sailors are each crying out to their own gods and flinging their cargo overboard. God wonders what is up with these people. They will need that cargo. And suddenly all manner of Gods and Goddesses are appearing before him demanding to know what is happening. God explains that it’s just a misunderstanding. His human, Jonah, has commissioned the entire ship, but has it headed it the wrong direction. God wants to correct their course. The other Gods and Goddesses have received prayers explicitly requesting that the boat continue to Tarshish. In time, they all agree that the best course of action for everyone is if Jonah simply takes another vessel back to land while the rest of the group continues, but how to get back to Joppa?
Meanwhile, Jonah has passed out. This is really all too much for him. His desperately-needed vacation has taken a horrible turn. The crew, fighting to stay on course, send their captain down to see if Jonah’s still alive. The poor boy looked peaked at best when he hired the ship and crew, and that fainting can’t be good. The captain shakes Jonah awake and suggests he call upon God for help. The captain is deeply perplexed when this only distresses Jonah further.
Eventually, the crew draws lots to see who is the cause of this torrential storm, and finds Jonah to be the culprit. They ask him who he is, who he worships and, above all, what he has done. Jonah tells them all about his background as a Hebrew, and the events of the last few days. They make a few assumptions and conclude that God is enraged and wrathful, which hurts God’s feelings.
“What must we do to you to make the sea calm around us?,” the crew-members ask Jonah in a fit or terror.
More depressed and, frankly, a little suicidal, Jonah replies “Heave me overboard, and the sea will calm down for you: for I know that this terrible storm came upon you on my account”. God thinks this is a brilliant idea! Jonah can head the other direction as soon as God sends him another vessel.
But being decent human beings, the mariners decline and row on with renewed vigor. God can’t figure out if he should be happy about the integrity or sad about the lost opportunity. Then the people turn to God and pray, on Jonah’s account—as they generally pray to other Gods. “Oh please, LORD, do not kill us either for helping this man or for heaving him overboard now. This is your fault” and they unceremoniously toss Jonah into the ocean.
Thank me, God thinks. Now I can help him. And God compels a giant nondescript fish, who happened to be granting wishes in the area, to pick up Jonah. Unfortunately, Jonah tries to fight with his marine transport and the fish, attempting to grab Jonah by the collar, accidentally swallows him. God just rolls his eyes and creates a cavity within in the fish where Jonas can live until they reach shore. The boy obviously needs a cooling down period.
When Jonah discovers himself within the fish, apparently alive, he decides it is too late to save what remains of his sanity and chooses to just give in to his delusions. In a bout of comforting irony, Jonas composes a long-form poem celebrating God and his future salvation. God thinks this is cute and sweet. Plus, he appreciates both the trust Jonah has placed in him, and the detailed instructions on what Jonah is looking for in his rescue.
Eventually the fish reaches shore and spews up the vacantly-staring poet. God meets him on the beach, saying “Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it what I tell you”. God is very proud that he remembered to use his ‘professional voice.’
When Jonah gets to Nineveh, he announces: “in 40 days Nineveh will be overturned”. God has no idea where Jonah got that, but whatever, he made the journey and improvised: no harm, no foul. After all, God would like nothing more than to overturn the place at the end of their full-on dance party: complete with slippery-slide! Maybe Ishtar will go with him. And maybe she’ll be barren.
Much to Jonah’s surprise, the people of Nineveh believe him. They announce a fast and all wear sackcloths. God dislikes the look, but doesn’t want to judge. There’s no accounting for taste, and God has come to positively reinforce their culture, no matter how unattractive their dance-wear might be to him. God is delighted when even the king puts on his dancing sackcloth and starts fasting, presumably so he’ll have a great appetite for the festivities. But then the king spends his day sitting, dismally, in a pile of ashes, which gives God something more to contemplate. He has to hand it to humans, they are spontaneous. Whenever he thinks he is starting to understanding them, they go and do something completely unexpected.
Word spreads throughout Nineveh: “By decree of the king and his nobles: No man or beast—of flock or herds—shall taste anything! They shall not graze, and they shall not drink water! They shall be covered with sackcloth—man and beast—and shall cry mightily to God. Let everyone turn back from his evil ways and from the injustice of which he is guilty. Who knows but that God may turn and relent?”. God hears this and feels very sad that the people of Nineveh have refused his party. If God has to be honest with himself, he must admit that things have seemed too good to be true with Ishtar. He should never have gotten his hopes up. Fine, he decides with an inaudible sigh, he’ll just go home. So he calls Jonah and tells him they are heading out immediately.
Jonah freaks. “See,” Jonah shouts, “you are a good and compassionate God and I want to die”. God feels very confused by this compliment-despair mash-up and asks Jonah if things are really that bad. Jonah replies that they are, which makes God quite sad. But then God gives himself a pep talk. One can’t be compassionate with others if one can’t be compassionate with oneself.
While God contemplates the astounding effectiveness of aromatherapy and how he might support his young friend without his special sap, Jonah heads out of town where he builds a small booth and sits in its shade watching the city. God feels sad that Jonah apparently hasn’t come to terms with the lack of festivities. Clearly he has gotten his hopes up, but the people of Nineveh just aren’t in the partying mood. So God sends Jonah a big plant which grows beside his booth and shades the parts of him that the booth doesn’t cover. Not only that, it smells really good. God knows how Jonah likes good-smelling things, and harbors secret hopes that this new plant will, one day, be a boon for aromatherapy. Jonah loves his new plant friend.
God is so excited that he’s done something to make Jonah happy, that he decides to send him more friends. This time he sends Jonah a worm. At first, Jonah seems excited, but later he is devastated when the worm eats his plant, and God wishes he’d sent along extra worm food.
God sits with the grieving Jonah through the night. The next day, God tries to cheer Jonah up by making the wind dance, but Jonah only starts screaming, again, that he doesn’t want to live. God is sorry that he hadn’t noticed how fragile the youth was before inviting him on the trip. Next time, God thinks, I’ll pick someone who’s a bit more flexible.
The poor boy is taking it very—very—hard. God is deeply concerned. He goes to Jonah to commiserate. “You loved that plant,” God says, “but the worm ate it. And I loved the people of Nineveh, but they didn’t want a dance party”. “Neither of us got what we’d hoped, but we did have nice experiences. You got to hang with the plant, and I got to hang with Ishtar. We both got to hang with the people of Nineveh, and see their alternative attire” (feeling tender, God forgets his professional voice)—"and at least we’re in this together.”
“By the way,” God goes on after a bit, “I appreciate that lovely fragrant sap you use. What is it?”
“Frankincense,” Jonah replies.
“Thanks,” God responds, “I’ll have to remember to gift it to someone special.”
So God and Jonah sit outside of town holding hands until the sun goes down. When they both feel better, they get up and head home where Jonah grows many more plants and God blesses them with lovely fragrances, before throwing a huge dance party for all ‘His People’ . . . and Ishtar.