The third part of our reflection on the book of Jonah.
“He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.
This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (They knew he was running away from the Lord, because he had already told them so.)
Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him.”
Jonah has boarded a boat in his attempt to flee from the Lord. It is full of Pagans. That’s bible-talk for people who were not from the nation of Israel, and as such, did not worship Yahweh. Some Rabbis believe that there were 70 pagans, representing the 70 known nations on Earth at the time, which means that every ‘God’ was represented too.
A violent storm began to press in on the boat. (You will notice the use of hyperbole throughout the book of Jonah. Everything is ‘Great’ or ‘Huge’ or ‘Violent’. Remember, this book isn’t just about Jonah, it’s about the reader as well, so the writer is trying to stir you with the use of extreme language.) What does this man of God do whilst the storm rages?
Meanwhile, the pagans are crying out to their ‘own God’s’ to no avail.
Let’s pause here for a quick question. Who, or what, do you call upon when trouble strikes your boat?
There is one person left who hasn’t called upon their God to stop the storm and that is our Prophet Jonah. The sailors roll the dice and find that it is probably Jonah who has brought this calamity upon them. So they finally wake him and ask him who he is and why this is occurring. Jonah responds, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”
If you remember back in part one of this reflection, we looked at how the writer wants to use humour and irony to get their message across to the reader. Here is the perfect example, you may not be rolling on the floor laughing (ROFL’ing for the younger readers) but humour is often stamped by time and context. For example, I don’t get a belly laugh out of watching Charlie Chaplin, but most viewers in the 1920’s would have been crying with laughter at the sight of his slapstick comedy. Same sort of thing here. The suggestion, to the Jewish audience, that you could sail away from the God who created the land and the sea was ridiculous. Playing hide and seek with God, in the ocean. Laughable!
So whilst the Pagans begin to worship the God of Israel, Yahweh, Jonah continues to try to run away from the creator, by running into his creation.
The sailors ask Jonah what can be done to calm the sea and save the ship? Jonah suggests they throw him into the sea. This seems noble at first, but if you think about it, it is simply a continuation of his attempt to get away from God. Jonah has just witnessed the conversion of many pagans and rather than acknowledge God, tell the sailors about Yahweh, lead them in prayer or maybe even suggest they come with him to Ninevah (safety in numbers might help), he chooses to bail out… Again.
Maybe you’re not like me, but I can be an expert at ignoring God. Going about my day without consciously even thanking God for it. Experiencing his creation all around me and not actually paying attention to the creator. It seems crazy that Jonah would flee from God over land and sea, knowing full well that God created the whole Earth, but this is what we do most days.
Sometimes it’s with good reason that we ignore the creator. This has a lot to do with how we view God. Somewhere along the way, many of us have been told that God is angry with us, he is seeking revenge for all our mess-ups and won’t be satisfied until we experience his punishment. One famous and somewhat influential preacher is known for reminding his audience that ‘God hates you’.
Really? God hates me. His own creation. He desires to see me suffer? Seriously?
If that is who God is, then I’m going to keep ignoring, because to acknowledge God brings too much shame and pain. I’m going to run from a ‘God’ like that as well.
However, the Bible tells us a different story. A story about a God who pursues, not to exact revenge but to show us love, unconditional love. A God who displays beauty in the creation, not to scare us, but to show us that God is good, beautiful and trustworthy.
The funny thing about the story is, that Jonah says he knows that Yahweh is “gracious and compassionate… abounding in love” (Jonah 4:2), but he still can’t acknowledge him in these early parts of the book. It seems the problem is with Jonah’s perception of God, not God himself.
It’s the same for me.
Whenever I choose to ignore God because of my perception, even when I have stuffed up, I am choosing to shut the door on God’s grace, compassion and love. The same grace, compassion and love that are open and accessible to me at any part of my day; if I choose to acknowledge them.
A loving understanding of God opens up all sorts of big theological questions about the nature of God and the comparisons between the Old and New Testament. They’re probably too much for this blog, although there’s plenty of excellent books to read on the subject. But for us, followers of Jesus, we have the perfect representation of who God is. Jesus says it like this, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father… Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.” (John 14:9-10)
So we can continue to be scared of the wrathful God, refusing to acknowledge and trying to run, or we can choose to see God in the person of Jesus. Driven by grace, compassion, love, forgiveness, kindness, humility… We could go on and on. So I’m going to stop running and ignoring the creator. I want to allow God to be revealed daily so that I can experience all those good things, over and over again.
Will you join me in trying that?
Missed earlier posts in this series? You can start here:
Intro to Jonah: The most grown-up Children’s story you will ever read.