He went that away
‘…Jonah set out for Tarshish…’ (Jonah 1, 3)
The story of Jonah is one of the most well known of Bible stories. In particular his being swallowed up by a ‘great fish’ – never a whale – only ever a ‘great fish’. It begins with his seeking to run away from God. Commissioned by God to go to Nineveh – the Capital of the then all-powerful Assyrian Empire – situated to the north of the country we know as Iraq; today the city of Mosul, much in the news, is built upon its ruins; Jonah goes to Joppa – today the port city of Tel Aviv – and boards a ship for Tarshish – A Lebanese port, further north of the Eastern Mediterranean. Rough seas were commonplace, but this was an uncommon storm. The crew, fearing for their lives, sought out a way to save themselves. It was Jonah’s fault. He would have to be sacrificed if they were to be saved. Eventually the crew, after exhausting all other possibilities, through him overboard.
What happens afterwards, well that’s for next week.
Meanwhile, 800 years or so later, another ship sets sail, a prison ship, carrying convicts, departing Caesarea bound for Rome. A difficult journey, crossing the Eastern Med., and then the Adriatic, one fraught with danger. Eventually the inevitable happens, and the ship is in danger of foundering. But this time, rather than abandon the ship, Paul declares that if they want to save their lives, they should stay on board, stay with the ship. This they do, and after what seemed like an age, the ship runs aground on the island of Malta. They regroup and finally get to Rome. Life is like the weather, and the weather is like life. And whatever one’s relationship with God, whether one is as it were ‘running away from God’ or whether one is doing what one imagines God is calling one to do, that is how it is. Our weather is fairly benign in every way but now and again we find ourselves thinking how much we would welcome a storm to break up the heaviness in the air, to freshen things up as it were; not that what we so fondly refer to as a storm is really a storm when compared with what others experience in other parts of the world – we find ourselves labelling what is nothing more than a strong wind, a ‘storm’.
But this is life…’The storms of life’ have a role to play as far our maturing as human beings is concerned. Without them, our character is not formed in the way it should, and whilst each one of us is unique and as such each one will experience our own unique existential ‘weather’ system, nevertheless experience them we will. It is how life is; how we are made, formed, fashioned, shaped. We wish it were different, of course we do, but quiet reflection reminds us that it could not have been any other way, could it? Jonah was running away from God, running away from life, but he could not escape either. The storm hit, and drastic action was called for. All of a sudden, the plan Jonah had hatched for himself was in tatters. There will be times when circumstances cause us to be dragged back from the brink; decisions taken out of our hands, choices made for us as we discover that for now at least, we have no choice in the matter.
Paul believed himself to be on a mission for God. The storm hit. All of sudden it was as if the plan Paul had hatched for himself was in tatters. There will be times when circumstances will cause us to have to drag ourselves back from the brink; the decision in our hands, choices we will have to make as we discover that for now at least, we have no choice but to choose for ourselves. And, whether we realise it or not, whether we acknowledge it or not, whether we even believe it or not, The Christian Gospel, a Gospel of grace, mercy, forgiveness and love, the Christian Gospel claims that God shares every such experience with us; not necessarily manipulating the decisions of others, not necessarily predetermining the choices other might make on our behalf; not necessarily prefiguring the decisions we might make, not prescribing the choices we might make on our own behalf…God does not micromanage the affairs of humankind…God sees the bigger picture.
God does intervene 24/7 in the lives of each and everyone of us; rather God intervened once for all in human history; but in such a way that that intervention necessarily impacts itself upon the lives of us all, 24/7…Every decision, every choice…