Monday, March 10, 2014

Whale


I continually struggle with a Jonah complex. Maybe you believe that Jonah was a real prophet who lived and was swallowed by a whale and eventually saved an entire culture of people from God's wrath. Maybe you think Jonah is a character in a story of life that all human beings can relate to and learn from. Either way you experience the book of Jonah, you probably walk away with a deep understanding of God's grace. At least, I hope you do.

When it comes to Jonah, I get his gut for the most part. He was a good law abiding Jew. He loved God with all he had. He loved being a chosen child of the most high. He loved being with his people. It is all too familiar when God calls Jonah to go to the city that he hated and spread a message of repentance that will enable them to become saved by God's grace. Jonah hated Nineveh and it wasn't just personal. The Ninevities were terrible to Israel and their cultures clashed as their mutual disrespect burned bright and fierce. Jonah had no interested in GOING there or TALKING to any of "those people", let alone being part of SAVING their lives.

This is ultimately what caused him to flee God. This is a good lesson for all of us no matter how old we are. You just cannot escape God's love. He even tried to kill himself in probably the worst way a Jew could think of at the time-leaping into the sea (Sheol=hell). Most of you know the story; he doesn't drown like he hopes. He is swallowed up by a whale and for three days is in continual conversation with God. He prayed like his life depended on it and it did.

Sometimes, I try to imagine what that was like. The smell must have been overpowering, the burning of stomach acid on your skin, the terrible lack of oxygen and the tightness of a contracting belly pressing on you. Hell. Sheol. The pit. Whatever you want to call it, that is where Jonah went.

What's interesting to me is that Jonah experienced hell because he tried to disconnect himself from God. It wasn't until he spoke to God and agreed he would do his will that he felt that life force well up inside him as the whale spat him on the shore.

There is a obvious parallel to the crucifixion story of Christ. Jesus was dead for three days and we tell it as he went to hell, separated from the Father and then was reunited on the third day. Jonah did this too.

I've never been in a tomb, or died, or lived in a whale belly while I contemplated God's call on my life, but I do sense that I can relate to Jonah's reaction. There have been plenty of times in my life that I wanted to flee a calling that did not reflect my values, my interests, the way I like to identity myself. I've tried to back out of opportunities to serve God in places where I am entirely uncomfortable or just feel like I could never fit in enough to make any sort of impact. I've had plans, even plans on what I thought God must be planning for my life.

The trouble with this way of thinking is that it is all about me. The story of Jonah is one that reveals that God's calls really aren't about us at all. While God knows the desires of our hearts and will answer our prayers, I believe he is also shaping our hearts to look more like his. His will and our will seem to mold together in perfect union when our answers are "yes" rather than "you've got the wrong guy." Suddenly, the line gets really thin between what He wants and what I want.

During this season of Lent, I'd like to challenge you to discern where your Jonah complex resides. Where can you let go and trust that God is a Father full of grace? How might your life change if you did so?

Of course, in the end, Jonah did live into God's will for his life and because of his "yes" there were THOUSANDS of people who became believers and were transformed forever. I would even venture to guess that Jonah felt pretty good about his part in God's plan in the end.

What about you? What is God creating for you to step into? Is it going to take a whale swallowing you to get you to be part of it?