Thursday, November 17, 2011

Unfinished Story

My long-term Bible reading has brought me to the story of Jonah, the guy who ran from God's assignment and was swallowed by a big fish. You've heard this -- Jonah is trapped in the belly of the fish and realizes there is no running from God, so he apologizes and gets spit out to go and complete his mission. But then we get to chapter four, where Jonah sees the people of Ninevah repent and turn to God, and the city is saved.

          "Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life." And          the Lord said, "Do you have good reason to be angry?" 

          Then God said to Jonah, "Do you have good reason to be angry about the plant?" And [Jonah] said, "I have good reason to be angry, even to death."          (Jonah 4:3-4, 9)

Okay, so how is it that God didn't send lightning bolts to zap Jonah dead on the spot? Jonah is totally impudent, whiny, selfish, and snit-faced. The notes in my study Bible title this chapter, "Jonah Learns". All I see is Jonah having a temper tantrum. And this is the end of the story -- we don't get to see what he did next. Did he relent and have a complete change of heart? Even if he did, was he ashamed about this for the rest of his life? Or did God fully restore and heal him? Was it a long process over many years, or did God take him to heaven quickly?

Maybe the best answer we get comes from Jonah's statement here --

          And he prayed to the Lord and said, "Please Lord, was this not what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore, in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that Thou art a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity."          (Jonah 4:2)

Jonah knew God. He was really mixed up, but he knew God.

Someone dear to me is pretty mixed up, but I trust that he knows God, too. He recently set foot in a church for the first time in years, and told me his heart was pounding and his hands sweating.

"What, did you think God would strike you down for being there?"

He nodded.

My next response might not be theologically sound, but it was from the heart. "If I thought God was going to hit you with a lightning bolt for the stuff you've done, I would have disowned one of you by now."

1 comment:

Katharine said...

If you read the whole post, I feel I should "finish" my thought with a couple of clarifications. I do believe that there are serious consequences for bad behavior (sin). However, I do not expect God to strike someone down here and now as punishment. My point to this dear one was that, if I thought the lightning bolt was about to hit, I would get myself as far away as possible so I didn't get hurt too. As long as there's a breath, there is hope. The Lord is more gracious to me than I deserve.