Do we love others? The way that God loves them? Am I willing to sacrifice my own plans and ambitions to serve them? For most of us who are Christians, we want to answer yes to all three of these questions, but if we honestly examine our life, can we?
Jonah was one of God's prophets, yet he didn't want the people who he preached to to turn from their wicked ways and serve God. In fact, the whole reason he was swallowed by a fish was because he was running away from God (a futile endeavor) so that he wouldn't have to preach to the Ninevites. From a human perspective his response is quite understandable, the Ninevites were a ruthless, harsh people and the enemies of the Israelites. Jonah knew that if they repented in response to his message from God, that God would not destroy them. He even tells God as much saying "That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity." (Jonah 4:2b, NIV).
Many times we are like Jonah. We may not be as explicit or calloused as he was, but we effectively have the same response that he did. We refuse to share the gospel with someone because they aren't like us, or they have committed some horrendous sin. We may try to rationalize it by saying that "they won't accept the message anyway", but that is just an excuse, and a poor one at that since we don't know their heart. Once we recognize that all humans are in the same predicament with regard to God and that our message through the gospel is the only hope of reconciliation with God, then if we truely love other people, we will proclaim it to them.
The latter part of Jonah's story provides some insight into how we get to the point where we would gladly send people to hell for something as little as how they act or dress. In Jonah 4:6-9 we see Jonah's response to God's provision and then subsequent removal of a vine for shade. Jonah had come to the point where he felt that he knew what was best, both in relation to the Ninevites and in relation to his own comfort and well being. He was so focused on his own way, that he totally missed what God was doing; in this case turining a wicked nation to serve himself. In the same way, when we get focused on doing things our way, we tend to miss seeing what God is doing. This is the same principle that I touched on when talking about the subtle hardening of our hearts. The less we focus on and seek God and his word, the less we see others the way that he sees them, as lost humans who need his son, Jesus Christ, as their savior. Thus while we may say that we love others, our actions and reactions show that we really just love ourselves.
God's final response to Jonah in Jonah 4:10 helps to put this into perspective. He chastises Jonah for being more concerned about the little vine which Jonah hadn't even watered, than about a city of more than 120,000 people who might be destroyed. Oh that we, I, would have a heart that, like God, sees others as lost in their sin and provide the hope that is only found in His gospel.