Today’s Old Testament passage is the beginning of Jonah. This strange story has a central character that is almost like a caricature of a biblical prophet, one who is a man of faith, but, like Job, struggles desperately to make sense of God’s actions. I am not sure what the writer had in mind when he wrote this, but I am always left seeing part of my life intersect with Jonah’s.
It was just recently the Theology on Tap group was talking with Pastor John about vocation and “calls.” What God is calling each of us to. Like many of us, Jonah resists his initial call from God. “But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid his fare and went on board….”
Once in the midst of the journey, a mighty storm came upon them, so bad it was threatening to break them up. The sailors decide to cast lots to figure out who is responsible for this mess. The problem is not that Jonah worships his Hebrew God, but that he is fleeing from his God. “What is this you have done!” they reply.
God had an interesting way of hunting Jonah down. What is remarkable is that in the midst of this conflict, Jonah makes some converts. He is the least bit interested in spreading his religion. He is running from it! And yet, when the sailors get wind of his “turn”, THEY pray to the Lord, asking for mercy. And only on Jonah’s suggestion do they throw him overboard.
After Jonah is off the boat, they continue praying and making sacrifices to the Lord, and making vows.
Jonah is one of those prophets who, time and time again, does little or nothing for God’s sake, and yet he has remarkable results. It is strange evangelism to say the least.
If that is the case, this is a Presbyterian story! Everything seems preordained here – and Jonah cannot derail it. God is in charge. The sovereign One is directing and maneuvering, despite Jonah’s lackluster responses. As the sailors come to believe, and as we will find others later in the book come to belief, it is not human action which causes it, but God’s action.
For me, I love the story of Jonah. It is a reminder for me that if Jonah can follow God, so can I. The storms of this life ultimately cannot get me. And more than that, I don’t need to be perfect in this life; I just need to give it my best. As a struggling perfectionist, this is the best news I can get today!