Jonah is a story for our times. More than the story of Big Fish Eats Man you learned as a child, this tale has less to do with the fish, but everything to do with being eaten alive. If you are not familiar with tale of Jonah, you can find this short story here. It’s a quick read but packs a punch when considering today’s current events.
As peek into his life, we realize Jonah was being consumed on several fronts. Disobedience, hatred and anger have taken the large bites. But before we are too harsh on this man, perhaps we run a mile in his shoes.
When the story opens, Jonah has received his next mission. Like many people, the instructions Jonah wished the message had went into the junk mail. He responded like many of us, “I’ll do anything you say, God, but don’t send me to . . .” Fear takes over. Excuses start to rise. Everyone have their own specifics on why they can follow God anywhere but there. Jonah’s? He admits he simply does not agree with what God was doing. His running was simply a way of showing his disgust with God’s plan.
He prayed to the LORD and said, “Oh, LORD, this is just what I thought would happen when I was in my own country. This is what I tried to prevent by attempting to escape to Tarshish! – because I knew that you are gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in mercy, and one who relents concerning threatened judgment. Jonah 4:2
Jonah is one crazy dude. But, this is where we must be careful lest we become like Jonah. Like our friend, we all love the compassionate God, especially when it comes to our own wrongdoing. But then, there are times we want God to get on with the just part of His character and get on with avenging our enemies. “Take those guys out!” rings from our lips when someone has done us wrong or threatens our security. This ‘giving them a second chance’. . .well, let’s not and call it good.
But, that is not how God operates. His good often times does not resemble ours. His good sees the bigger picture, the greatest outcome, the most eternal value. Ours? We tend to get hung up on comfort. Yep, comfort. Sacrifice and suffering are far from our thoughts. We just want peace and quiet as we wile away the hours in blissful contentment basking in the glory of our Lord that our Christian life affords us. Can you hear the birds twittering?
This is the place Jonah may have gone wrong. Commissioned to be God’s voice often has its pit falls, especially when His voice does not line up with our sensibilities. Jonah actually admits at the beginning of the story he is “a Hebrew and he fears the Lord, the God of heaven who created the sea and dry land.” [Jonah 1:9]
What we see here from Jonah is lip service. He says one thing but his actions tell us a different story. He does not fear the Lord. In fact, in the story he does his best to undermine God’s mission thinking his way best. He’d rather die than do what God commanded. That’s a bit extreme, don’t ya think?
But, how much do our lives resemble this man Jonah? Do we call ourselves Christians, yet don’t act like Christ? Do we hate what God does not? Do we intentionally choose our way over His? I heard it said recently from a friend many of the atheists she knew were better Christians than those who claimed to follow Christ. Ouch! That is a very telling statement. The thing is, the same was true in Jonah’s story.
I don’t want that to be true about my life. I want to be exactly what following Christ means. I want Jesus in my actions and words. I want what He values to become what I value. I want to live for Him and not die wishing I done more to make a difference.
In the last bit of the story, God gives Jonah a bit of respite from the hot sun. A vine grows up to shade this man’s head, giving him a measure of comfort and causing gladness in Jonah’s heart. But alas, in the morning, a worm comes and eats away the vine and along with it, Jonah’s happiness. God points out Jonah’s misguided notion that comfort supersedes people.
If I am to be eaten alive may it be by generosity and compassion. In this way, I can demonstrate what loving God and acting in obedience truly looks like. It will be certainly followed by loving my neighbors just as He commanded. The combination is a world changer. If I am going to run like Jonah, it will be in God’s direction. Wanna join me?