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Psychological Healing
in the Catholic Mystic Tradition

Questions and Answers

I am a Presbyterian minister and found your comments and statements very illuminating in my study of the book of Jonah. When I preach through a book, I always try to ask “why” questions, to get beyond the surface issues to the truth that sometimes hides on a deeper level. Jonah is certainly a book about following God’s direction and leading, but I wanted to know why Jonah made so many suicidal references in this short book.
 
I found in your comments about Depression and Suicide a helpful description of Jonah. From a pastoral perspective, my observation is that Jonah definitely had suicidal attitudes throughout the book. But the encouraging thing is that even with Jonah’s sometimes skewed perspective, God used him to communicate a very helpful message to the Ninevites. They heard Jonah’s warnings and desired to make moral sense of their lives and to respond to God’s mercy. Having at least two people in my congregation who have attempted suicide, it will be an encouraging message (to them and others in the congregation) that God often makes our lives a blessing to others, even when we can’t see past our own struggles.

Outline of the Answer
• Introduction: The Love-Hate Flip-Flop
• Anger at God
• A Mission of Love
• True Love Calls Us to Repentance

 
You’re welcome.

Actually, the full theological value of the story of Jonah goes deeper even than your interpretation. Look at the part about the gourd plant near the end of the story. Jonah was “happy” when it was growing; he became “angry” when it died. This is a perfect example of the “love-hate flip-flop” that I describe on the Sexuality—and Love page of A Guide to Psychology and its Practice. When the infant’s needs are met, it “loves” the mother; when its needs are frustrated, as when the mother gives attention to something—or someone—else, the infant “hates” the mother. Moreover, this throws the infant into a profound conflict. To hate someone it needs puts it at risk of being abandoned by that person; therefore, as I say on the Depression and Suicide page of A Guide to Psychology and its Practice, the infant will feel guilty and decide that it is really to blame and therefore is worthless and deserves to die. Then all that anger and hate gets turned against itself in depression and suicide.

 
Anger at God

So why was Jonah angry with God? Well, let’s go back to the beginning of the story. Jonah was jealous that God would want to show mercy to Nineveh. He was jealous that God would turn His attention away from Israel and show concern for another people. So Jonah ran from God, in anger—and with feelings of suicide. The suicidal feelings, if put into words, would have said, like a jealous child, “I’m angry that I am not the center of your attention. If you can care about Nineveh, then I am worthless and deserve to die.”

  

A suicide attempt—whether completed or not—is therefore a sin against the Holy Spirit because it amounts to a refusal to believe God’s offer of mercy to all sinners and a refusal to listen to God who, through the death—and resurrection—of His very Son, has sealed the Word of His promise forever. Hence Jonah’s suicidal feelings were in effect a refusal of mercy.

  

 
A Mission of Love

Hence God, in His mercy, gave Jonah a bitter taste of the death he thought he wanted—he was swallowed by a fish. Then God rescued him. Momentarily encouraged by this, Jonah went to Nineveh as he was commanded and called the city to repentance as he was commanded. Astonishingly, everyone in Nineveh actually repented. They repented even before Jonah got a third of the way through the city. Jonah was shocked—and he fell back into jealousy.

  

This explains the essence of jealousy: in your fear of losing what you desperately want, you hate any person who might come between you and what you want.

But in real love there is no jealousy. Real love is a matter of giving, not getting. So when you have nothing to lose, and nothing to gain, how can you fear a “rival”?

  

Jonah, therefore, needed to learn something about real love. God, then, had to use the gourd plant to show Jonah what the mission was all about. It was about love. “As you loved that plant, so I love the world,” God told him. “And I love Nineveh, and I love even the cattle of Nineveh.” And we can understand here God’s unspoken implication to Jonah: “And I love you.”

Thus the true nature of mercy was revealed: To deny mercy to others is to deny it to yourself.

But this isn’t all.

 
True Love Calls Us to Repentance

Mercy—and love—are not just a matter of all-inclusive acceptance. It’s not just a psychological matter of saying, “I’m OK, you’re OK.” Yes, God loves us, but our sins separate us from Him. True love, therefore, calls us away from sin and into repentance. True love doesn’t just say, “Come, and join us.” It also calls people to repent their sins. God used Jonah to preach to Nineveh, and then, using the gourd plant as a metaphor, He preached to Jonah himself. Real love calls people to you so you can preach to them to change their behavior, because real love wishes the good of others; real love is about giving, not getting.

This is a very heavy obligation for anyone who claims to live the Gospel today. It really means that you have to stand up to everything in the entire society—to all of “Nineveh,” even the cattle—and preach the truth about sin. Remarriage after divorce is legal, but it’s still sin. Abortion is legal, but it’s still sin. Artificial contraception is legal, but it’s still sin. Sodomy is legal, but it’s still sin. Even pornography is legal, but it’s still sin. Our whole culture is rooted in sin.

Thus you, being an instrument of God like the worm in the gourd plant, have to show people that the things they “love” are, first of all, just illusions that hide their unconscious resentment and anger at God. In addition, all these illusions are just a way to deny God’s mercy to others. Because if you fail to tell others that they are living in sin they can’t repent, can they? If you fail in this, they will be destroyed—and you, through your obstinate disobedience, will die a slow spiritual suicide and will be destroyed as well.

 

Who wrote this web page?

 

Healing
Psychological Healing in the Catholic Mystic Tradition


by Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D.


A treasure of a resource for psychological and spiritual healing. Information gathered from my websites is now available at your fingertips in book form with a comprehensive index.
 
Psychological defenses help to protect us from emotional injury, but if you cling to the defense mechanisms that were created in your childhood and carry them on into adulthood—as most everyone does unconsciously—your quest for spiritual healing will be thwarted by overwhelming resentments and conflicts.
 
Still, God has been trying to show you that there is more to life than resentment and conflict, something so beautiful and desirable that only one thing can resist its pull: hate.
 
So now, and in every moment until you die, you will have a profound choice between your enslavement to old defenses and the beauty of God. That decision has to come from you. You will go where you desire.

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