This morning I was struck by the story of Jonah. You know, Jonah and the whale. This bible story from the Old Testament really got me thinking. If you don’t know the story, it goes something like this (for the full story go to your bible within the book of Jonah):
God asks Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach to them about God (which would be completely against Nineveh’s lifestyle). They were wicked people and God needed Jonah to try to change their mindset. It seems that Jonah decided having God at his side was not enough to change the evilness of Nineveh, so he fled to Tarshish. Jonah jumped aboard a ship and paid the fare for the ride (away from God). However, a giant storm came upon the ship. The shipmates believed someone on board was causing them bad luck, so they “cast lots” to see who it was. Guess what? Jonah was the one chosen. Sure enough Jonah admitted that he was running from God. When the shipmates heard this, they feared for their lives. Jonah told them it was okay to just hurl him in the sea to stop this terrible storm. So they did (I have to admit they did wait a little while before throwing him in, but ultimately they did). God sent a large fish to swallow Jonah (this would be the whale). Jonah was trapped in the whale for 3 days and 3 nights. During this time, Jonah prayed to God for His forgiveness and realized the error of his ways. He had run from God instead of trusting Him. God then ordered the fish to spew Jonah out from his belly. Jonah would go on to proclaim God’s word to the Ninevites. The story gets even better after this. The Ninevites change their ways largely due to Jonah (and of course God). Yet, Jonah is angered that God forgives the Ninevites and spares their lives. He is so mad that he goes off and pouts (and pouts in a place where he can view what will happen to Nineveh). The story ends with God trying to explain why he has forgiven and spared 120,000 people. Yet it never tells us if Jonah changes his own heart.
Man that is quite a story! Why on earth did God place this on my heart today? Hmmm.
As I reflect upon this unusual story, I can see that Jonah was a typical follower of God. I know that I love to do God’s will when I think I am equipped to do it and there is no chaos involved. I jump for the chance to help God out when I know it won’t be a burden on me. When He asks me to do something out-of-the-box, I tend to back away. Really, God? Why me? Why do I need to throw myself into that place where people are going to be rude and mean to me? Why do I need to suffer? I might even run to a far off place (like the grocery or something).
So next, Jonah fled God and went aboard the ship and they all decided Jonah was the one causing them all the bad luck. Remember that? Sometimes when I move away from God or turn my back completely on God, I feel as though people can see my guilt. Especially when I go to Church, I feel as though my friends just know that I am in a bad spot. They can see my misery before I even breathe a word from my mouth. The shame and guilt are written all over my face. I too feel like saying, just throw me in the sea! Put me out of my misery! When Jonah’s shipmates pause at doing so, I have to think that most of my friends would do the same. They might give me a little time to recognize my sorrow. After a while though, they would finally relinquish and just let me go. You can only take so much as a friend, right? I wouldn’t blame them for letting me go. Sometimes, we just need to go away for a while on our own and spend time with just God. Jonah needed that. He spent 3 days and 3 nights in complete darkness. I cannot imagine the sad, lonely, repulsive place that Jonah sat in and prayed to God. Yuck. I have found myself in some really bad places before, but none that compare to Jonah being stuck in the belly of a whale for 3 days and 3 nights. It makes me shiver thinking about it. Gross. Yet in this time, Jonah came to understand what God had asked him to do. He realized that He needed God, and God was willing to help him out of this pit. God was willing to forgive him. Once Jonah came to this realization it was like the light shone down right on his face. His heart melted from the hardness it had been under. He realized that God would make him worthy for this journey to Nineveh.
When I read the journey of Jonah this morning, I almost left out the last part of the story. I guess because it made me sad, but it is so true to life today. You see, Jonah went on to reveal God’s glory to so many Ninevites. Instead of being happy with the people he changed, he was angered that God forgave all the people (even those that still did not believe). It is easy to get caught up in our own pride and selfish attitude. It is also easy to forget that we too have turned our backs on God. Instead of being empathetic, we become vindictive. We want punishment for those who aren’t following the “right” path. Yet we cannot see that our path is straying too.
When I started writing and blogging about God, I knew that I would touch lives. I didn’t know how many, but I knew there would be a few. The friends and family that turn their backs on me is hard to take, but I realize that God has called me to do this because it is the “right” path for me. I cannot worry about how many lives I change, because one life is worth it. Jonah missed out on this. Just changing one life is HUGE! Jonah wanted to change all 120,000 people and that is impossible. It is a false expectation that causes Jonah to succumb to pouting and self-pity.
The story ends on a low note because we don’t know if Jonah ever changes his ways. It is almost like he ends up right where the story began. He is running from God once again. There are a lot of lives out there that end this same way: right where they began. It is sad, but true. We cannot always end on a high note.
What I see from this story today is that God calls each of us down a path. We either accept it or deny it. We either rejoice in it or become saddened by it. We can love or hate others. We can be happy in the outcome or wallow in our false expectations. It is your choice. I know my choice: it’s the one with God. God allows me to rejoice in the good and to let go of the bad. He shows me how to love those that I despise. He gives me the ability to see past my false expectations and to live in the truth.