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Friday, May 27, 2016

I'd like to Guess about Jonah

At Church we are doing a series on Jonah.  And so my mind has wandered, straight to the text, of course, and I have begun to think I can be just a bit inside Jonah's head.  With smug arrogance, I often (too often, I admit) have told my kids I can read minds.  And here I am, centuries after Jonah lived, and thinking I can somehow get inside his mind.  So, pardon my over-confidence here, but I'm just going to take a stab at what was going on with him.

I'm going to use some sanctified imagination, and go out on a limb and fill in the gaps with my musings.

I imagine that Jonah was raised by godly, somewhat rigid, well-meaning, devout, circumspect, righteous people.  He was probably a first-born: cautious, wanting to please, high-achieving, with keen insight and greater burdens of responsibility.  He took his upbringing well, I suppose, as we can guess because he went on to invest himself in full-time kingdom work as no less than a prophet.  I'll bet he was an inspiring leader.  He probably gave himself fully, seriously, and courageously to his work as God's appointed spokesperson.

When the book of Jonah opens, however, he isn't in his most stellar moments of life.  The biblical record has left us with more questions than answers, and gives us little of the details of who Jonah really was.  And isn't that just like God, to make it really not about the glorification of super-hero kingdom ministers, and more about the glory of His name and the spread of His good news to the farthest reaches of creation?  Because, I'm sure Jonah would have liked to go down in history as a faithful guy, who executed his spiritual obligations with grace, obedience and joy.  But we jump in on the story after what I imagine would have been his dark night of the soul.

I say this because as the book opens, he isn't interested in doing God's bidding anymore.  I wonder if some deep tragedy or disappointment with God had struck - perhaps a loss, a rejection, a failure.  I don't know what it might have been.  But whatever it was - and I think there was something - he seems to be confronted with what he had held to be true for most of his life.  Perhaps he was stuck in some linear thinking that if he just did everything he was supposed to do, God would fend for him and make his life peachy good and downright comfortable.  Maybe I'm being a little harsh.  But he strikes me as one who struggles with self-righteous legalism.  I think he thought pretty good of himself until his life started to fall to pieces.

I wonder if he had some reckoning with God and when God sends him on the next mission, he just throws in the towel and says, "No way.  And I'm not shy about saying it.  I'm so through with this - and I'm putting feet to my words - I'm heading the other way."  And without hesitation he sets off on the opposite path than what God told him to.

Now, usually we stop there and talk about how bad it was to do this.  Disobeying God is not recommended and we see where God has His way and still gets Jonah to do what He wants, not what 'he' wants.

But I'm tired of sticking with that storyline - plus, it doesn't take us inside Jonah's mind - or God's for that matter.  And who can know the mind of God?

Jonah is so sick of living life as God dictates and he's so mad or heartbroken or disappointed or despairing - of some conflagration of all these - that he is suicidal.

You read that right.  You thought that wasn't til chapter 4.  Think again.

Because right there in chapter 1, we have Jonah willing to have his life ended, rather than to repent.  He is on a ship with godless men - and God is still having His way with the weather and all - and Jonah is napping and basically like, 'I don't care.'

But the men gripped with fear won't allow Jonah the luxury of a nap below deck.  Prayers are demanded and Jonah is still not on great talking-terms with the God he is running from.  He would rather drown than bend his will to the God of the wind and waves.  Jonah's heartbroken despair, rage, and eventual disenchantment with life led him to this point - the point of not even caring about the living of life: a total rejection of the sovereign rule of God in his life.

I'm thinking many of us can relate to this.  I understand the shock to the core, the devastation, the realization that God does what pleases Him, and though it is the best, it doesn't often feel like that.  As hard a rap as Jonah gets from us moralistic relatives of his, I soften a little when I wonder what kind of painful emotional upheaval he might have faced that brought him to such a deeply tragic place of wanting to cast his fate to the deathly waves on what seemed to be the end of his earthly journey.

Let's cut him some slack, shall we?  Probably most of you learned your Jonah lesson well in Sunday school and would never dream of defying the orders of the Most High.  And, I truly hope that is the case.  But chances are, if Jonah wrestled with God in this way, there might be others of us with that honest, fighting spirit who find an awkward dissonance when faced with inner turmoil and just wonder if life is worth the living anymore.

Oh dear Jonah.  I think I get you.

But the main character in the story of Jonah isn't Jonah, but God and all that God does - how He acts, and shows up in the oddest of ways.

And while we think Jonah was wrong to disobey God, isn't it just like God to unfold a purpose even in the wrestling-poor-choices that are made, even in rebellion?

Because you see, Jonah was still a missionary of sorts.  And while not on speaking terms with God, God seems to work around that and use Jonah to bring His presence to the ship-crew who knew Him not.

After hurling Jonah to the sea, they made sacrifices to the One True God and made vows to Him.  Sounds an awful lot like conversion to me - worship and commitment and acknowledgement of Who God is.  And these were people outside the fold.  Though they had feared for their lives, and early on regretted having such a nuisance of a passenger, I'll bet that was a voyage they never forgot.  It was their day of salvation.

So, while Jonah flailed about in angst, rage and sullenness towards God, God still had the upper-hand (of course) and used Jonah to introduce the ship-crew to Him.  Seems in running from God, He just landed Jonah with an extra preaching mission which he unknowingly served, and probably didn't know the results of, while taking what he thought were his last gulps of air this side of glory.

Sometimes I wonder if honesty with God about our disappointment with Him borders on rebellion. Perhaps it does.  But apparently God can handle it, and continues to use His servants, even in their despair and flight from Him.

And that, in a nutshell, gives me hope.

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