Someone mentioned Jonah several weeks ago, and my mind went to wandering, and reeling. I can really relate to the guy, although I’ve never been tossed out of a boat, or slept with the fishes, never been to Tarsus, or Nineveh. But I did run from my sense of calling long ago, and God did intervene in a different way in order to show me that He would drive me to my destination if I let Him. I could forget a lot of things, but not that. Still not sure what it entirely means these many years later. But flight is still one of the available responses in my basic tool kit. They say your two basic stress responses are fight or flight. God has grown me in that respect. Not to fight in a physical sense, but to exhibit the intentionality of Jesus in directly addressing situations as soon as it is justified. I need his sense of self-control, wisdom, and kairos. God’s supreme, perfect timing in a thing.
As a kid, I loved the story of Jonah and the Whale. Or the Big Fish, depending upon your translation. Growing up on the shores of Lake Erie, it was hard to imagine any kind of local fish large enough to swallow me whole, then swim a few hundred miles and chuck me up on some distant sand bar. We had some mighty large Carp, Salmon, and some REALLY HUGE Lake Sturgeon that would show up infrequently. But as I grew older, I began to ask some hard questions of biblical texts. Like how could God fit all the animals in the world into a boat made of Gopher wood? 40 years in a small desert, really? But especially, how could Jonah breath inside of a whales stomach and not suffocate? How could there be a fish/whale large enough to actually swallow a man, and then deliver him up on some distant shore? Wouldn’t he be half-digested by the time he made landfall? As you can see, I am apt to get lost in the details, and lose the big picture. The big picture matters so much more, it often makes the details inconsequential. The details eventually explain themselves given enough time, and perspective.
I was so hung up on the obvious, bothersome details that I didn’t really ask the main question, that was just begging to jump out of the bag at me. “Why would he run away from God?” Why would he run.
He had obviously been chosen by God. WOW. And he knew what God was really like. Back then, there was “God A”, a vengeful, warlike, harsh, and obsessively anal deity. Sounds familiar, like the precise Germanic background I come from. (All die papers are in order, ja?) Then there was “God B”, who was kind, merciful, patient, full of loving kindness. The God of the Mercy Seat. Here’s the catch. They were one and the same God all along, as now, but “God A” was the popular conception of Him that people related to because they tried to approach Him on their own merits. Jonah obviously knew Him a bit better, more fully, as “God B”. The God who extends the grace and mercy required to approach Him.
But God gave Jonah a job that was creating some anxiety for him. He was stressed. He had to proclaim God’s judgement and extend an offer of God’s mercy to the Ninevites. But he knew if he went there on God B’s behalf, the Ninevites just might get off of the hook. And he wouldn’t have the satisfaction of seeing God pick up a stone tablet, and smash them over the head. Jonah had an agenda. He wanted pay-back, to exact his pound of flesh. At that time, the common formula for true religion was “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”. That was just the common deal back then. Now we talk about New Covenant stuff, forgiveness, and mercy, and grace. Back then it was just eyeballs and teeth, with a LOT of thunder and lightning tossed in from time to time. Think Elijah and the Prophets of Baal, David and the Philistines, Israel in the desert for 40 years, etc. Bummer.
We all know God got Jonah’s attention, and put him back on track toward Nineveh. He delivered his message, the Ninevites repented, and Jonah sulked. Because he was not seeing Nineveh the way that God did. God sees us, and those around us in the entirety of the situation, and His intent through all of it is to have compassion, to redeem, and restore.
“Then the LORD said, “You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight. Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?”
- Jonah, Jesus & Us: Jan. 22 sermon “Changing Speech, Speaking Change” (cantleaveunsaid.wordpress.com)
- Jonah & Tobit (hashembible.wordpress.com)
- Chapter-a-Day Jonah 1 (tomvanderwell.wordpress.com)
- “I am Jonah” Sermon Series… (unhealthygirl.com)