I’ve got to be honest with you guys. This has been a week with a lot of interesting things going on. I don’t necessarily want to go into detail with you all, but I think it will suffice to say that a lot of chaos that I was not thinking about a week ago right now is certainly front and center at the moment. I don’t like it there, but the fact of the matter is that is where I seem to find it right now. Some of it was admittedly of my own making, and some of it was beyond my control, but you need to be willing to take the consequences if you make decisions.
What is fascinating about this is that I am writing this post on Saturday night even though you will not read it until Monday morning. I am going to be leading a discussion at our church on the book of Jonah tomorrow morning (or I did lead a discussion at our church on the book of Jonah yesterday morning from your perspective). We are talking about opportunities and trying to discern what God would have us do. Jonah attempted to run over 2000 miles away from where God wanted him to be. Yet, a small nuance I never really thought about in the story is that while Jonah was on that ship going in the wrong direction, the captain of the ship told him he might as well pray to his God as well since everybody else was praying. Basically, it seems like the crew was of the mindset that we might as well pray to every possible god, and maybe one will respond. Even though the captain was not a believer in the God of Israel, he was at the point where he figured they should exhaust every potential resource they had.
Jonah then told them about his God and the situation. He let them know that he personally needed to be thrown overboard if they wanted the storm to stop. When they did it and the storm stopped, we see something really interesting. They convert. The crew members began offering sacrifices and making vows to God. That’s crazy.
How sincere were they? I don’t suppose we will ever know on earth. Maybe they got home and forgot the miraculous delivery of God in the midst of the storm. Maybe they forgot the power they witnessed. I don’t know, but what I do know is that they, it appears from all the information we have, they were converted by this experience.
However, think about what brought about this set of circumstances. Why were they on the boat with Jonah? Jonah was running away from God. Jonah had received a direct order from God to go to Nineveh. Some of us wish that God would point a little bit more clearly in the direction that we should go. I know I do. Jonah didn’t really have that excuse here. God told him to go to Nineveh. Jonah just did not want to go.
As a result of Jonah’s active rebellion, God brought people to Himself who may never have otherwise thought twice about the God of Israel. We don’t know what deities they followed, but we do know that everybody on board was praying to whoever they could, hoping for some type of deliverance from the storm that scared even these seasoned sailors. That is crazy as well.
We think about these situations, and they seem like such a big deal to us. Admittedly, some of them are a big deal. Nothing in my life has been life-threatening to the degree that the storm the sailors experienced was. However, I still had a few things happen that felt relatively major in my relatively average, middle-class life. Yes, I know, first world problems and all that. I don’t mean to diminish any suffering other people experience that is so much greater than mine. I’m just trying to be straight with you about my mindset.
However, we find these things popping up in our lives, and we don’t like it. These guys didn’t like the storm. I don’t like my problems. You probably don’t like yours. We want them to just disappear, go away, resolve, reconcile, or simply come to an end. Even an unresolved end sometimes feels better than ongoing problems (although I admit I do like resolution).
It takes a great deal of intellectual and spiritual discipline to step back and consider that God has purposes for literally everything in life. I do believe we have free will, and I believe that we make choices and have to answer for the consequences of the actions we take. However, isn’t remarkable how God can even use those things we do to bring about positive ends even with eternal consequences?
And, it is not just God weaving a beautiful story out of their good choices I make. Even out of the bad decisions where we lack wisdom or discernment, God uses those as well. Look at Jonah. He was in active rebellion. The fact that he was literally sailing in the wrong direction obviously does not mean much to God. God can do whatever He wants with any earthly circumstances, but I can’t help but think of the symbolism here. It wasn’t just that he was not going along with God. He was literally going in the opposite direction. He should have been going east, and he went west.
How comforting is that? It is probably much more comforting than most of us give it credit for. Obviously, we do not try to make bad choices. We do not use this as some type of Get Out Of Jail Free card as a license to sin because God will make everything work out in the end. That is not the Christian perspective on life. We try to continually become more conformed to the image of Jesus Christ which means a commitment to trying to be more and more like Jesus. That involves hopefully making better and better decisions with less and less sin.
Nevertheless, we all do stuff that we should not do. Even people who have been Christians for decades fall short. As I was thinking about my class tomorrow morning, I could not help but think how amazing it is that I can live much more courageously and try. Sometimes I may fall short. Sometimes I may not be right. But, I can live actively and try to do what God would have me to do. I may discern right sometimes. Sometimes I may lack wisdom and cause a great deal of chaos.
The fact that there is a God who is active and alive means that He is capable of even taking my failures and making them into something good. I don’t try to fail or fall short, but all hope is not lost if I do. I think that, for a lot of us, we can beat ourselves up. We get frustrated because we screwed something up, and then we shut down and don’t want to try anymore. Again, you can’t tell me that you have not been there before.
We don’t need to do that. We don’t need to be slaves to our bad decisions anymore. They happen. We need to acknowledge them, ask for forgiveness, and reconcile with those we may have hurt. However, beyond those responsibilities, we do not have to dwell on them anymore. God is faithful to forgive us our sins, and we have been separated from them as far as the east is from the west as Christians. That’s crazy.
Why then do we insist on living like we are still held captive? I don’t know. Maybe we like to beat ourselves up. Maybe we are so transactional that we think that all wrongs have to be paid for. The concept of forgiveness feels like we are getting something for nothing. The fact of the matter is that our forgiveness was anything but free. Jesus Christ died on the cross for us. Yes we have forgiveness freely given, but it is free because the price was already paid by someone else. That’s amazing.
Here is where the rubber meets the road though. We need to live like we believe this. I can write this. You can read this. You might agree with what I have said. I am not lying to you. These are genuine thoughts I have been having tonight, but now I definitely want to live like I believe them. I want to bring them into full application in my life. That’s the hard part. That’s the challenge for you and me this week.