Jonah: Living In The Belly Of A Paradox (@layanglicana)


“Menologion of Basil 008” Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons –

 This is a post about Cecil the lion. Obviously. People are talking about little else. A shaggy lion story…


Jonah has had a trying few days. God had commanded him to go east to Nineveh but Jonah rebelled and instead fled as far as possible in the opposite direction (1:23), only to be swallowed by a great fish and dumped back at his starting point (2:1, 11).  He then did as he was told, and passed on God’s warning to the wicked people of the city who, amazingly, did indeed repent. And God decides not to destroy them. As a kindness, overnight, God grows a plant over Jonah which offers him shade from the burning sun. But, the next day God makes a worm to eat the plant, causing it to wither and die. Jonah has had enough and complains to God about the loss of the gourd.

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?” (Jonah 8-11)

And so we get to Cecil. Like God, the serious commentators, once having dried their tears over the sad fate of this king of beasts, berate us all for our strange sense of priorities: is the fate of one lion really more important, more real to us than the fate of the Middle East? The boat people, some of whom are presumably still drowning in the Mediterranean (their plight is no longer the focus of media attention)? The ‘swarm’ of people in northern France risking their lives to reach the unlikely Eldorado of 21st century Britain? The same commentators have reflected in solemn judgement on human morality, which can be more interested in the life of one animal than a hundred thousand fellow human beings.

But the truth is both more complicated, and more simple, than that. Do you remember Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince and the fox?

“I cannot play with you,” the fox said. “I am not tamed.”..

“What does that mean–‘tame’?”..

 “To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you…But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world…One only understands the things that one tames,” said the fox.”

So the little prince tamed the fox. And when the hour of his departure drew near–

“Ah,” said the fox, “I shall cry.”

“It is your own fault,” said the little prince. “I never wished you any sort of harm; but you wanted me to tame you…”

“Yes, that is so,” said the fox.

“But now you are going to cry!” said the little prince.

“Goodbye,” said the fox. “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

What is essential is invisible to the eye,” the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.

“Men have forgotten this truth,” said the fox. “But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. “


Cecil was tamed. He had a name. He had been tamed by the people of Zimbabwe. He was one lion. And, like Chekhov’s seagull, he was killed by someone who had nothing better to do with his time.

Jonah’s gourd was one plant. It had given Jonah shade. Given time, Jonah would have nurtured it, trained it on a framework, and pruned it. He had begun to tame it. But 120,000 Ninevites? Even 6,000,000 Jews is a number, too huge for us to grasp. For us to feel real compassion for these, we have to begin with the individuals, one human being at a time.  And then we shall understand.

About Laura Sykes