Jonny led today’s worship, assisted by Tim and Amanda. Tim brought the Word. He continued the theme of the highlights of the Old Testament turned to the story of Jonah. Jonah gets called by God to go to Nineveh. Jonah ran away to Joppa, running as far as he could go in the opposite direction to Tarshish.
Jonah’s on the boat asleep and a big storm comes. Jonah tells them to throw him overboard. The sailors don’t want to do it but he insists.
Tim wants to tell us of a slightly less well known part. Jonah is inside the fish imagine the smell the rotting fish.
Tim read from Chapter 2 of Jonah ending with God commanding the fish to vomit Jonah on to dry land.
You might be tempted to skip over this little prayer or song from Jonah in the whale. A bit like the lists of genealogy elsewhere in the Old Testament . Yet it’s pivotal, it showed Jonah’s point of view. How many of us in Jonah’s position would have gone to Nineveh an awful place. Jonah tried to run away from the task and ends up sinking down and down.
The sailor asks Jonah to pray to his God yet Jonah ignores this. Jonah’s prayer shows his experience, seaweed around his head sinking to the roots of the mountain. This is a real scientific understanding of where mountains start. He moves from calling God He to the more personal You. Jonah sees the painful hand of God in this. He knows it wasn’t the sailors but God who casts him into the sea. I am driven from your sight yet will I look upon your holy temple. He turns to God, in the same way the people in Exodus were called to turn and look upon the bronze fish .
In Chapter 1, the fish is male. Start of Chapter 2 it is female and then turns to male again. Echoes poetically for the words used for birth. Jonah’s rebirth here is alluded to here. Jonah reached rock bottom and is now reborn. He is thankful, grateful as he finds himself alive inside the fish. He’s still praying, God hasn’t said anything yet. Maybe Jonah is wondering how he’s going to get out of here.
Despite his own disobedience he’s still pointing the finger of blame at others, making vows but not being repentant.. he hadn’t been able to shake the idea that saving the Ninevites is not God’s greatest idea. Chapter 4 reinforces this. Amazing fact is God accepts this prayer, Jonah has looked towards God. God answered those who calls put in times of trouble. He accepts Jonah’s protests not as sin but as an ongoing conversation.
The picture is swallowing and vomiting is used elsewhere as judgement in the Old Testament. Jonah’s song whilst not full of repentance is accepted as a necessary first step in his journey. He can’t yet find compassion for outsiders. Maybe this is for us as well. Maybe God needs to work with us in our imperfect attitudes, it’s enough to turn towards God and believe. God will deal with all of the other stuff. Maybe we’ve been in the dark place Jonah’s been in.
Jesus descended into death clearly leaving no place where he can’t find us. God doesn’t expect everyone to suddenly understand, to not have doubts, to not have questions. Jonah is utterly wrong and prejudiced. Yet God’s going to use him. And when he finally goes to Nineveh and preaches people respond.
We’ll never understand everything. This is the life of faith. We carry the queries, the doubts and the questions and yet God will never leave us. We can have the conversation with God, Jonah continues to protest but as God continues to work with him Jonah cannot run. Jonah gives us a glimpse of real faith , a faith that struggles. Jonah gives thanks when he knows he did not deserve to be saved. Like Jonah we have lots of unresolved issues, yet God continues to be with us in dark difficult places.
Nothing separates us from God’s love. Our faith does not depend on us having all the answers. God has them.