Wednesday, October 3, 2018

No Turning Back

As we saw yesterday, at the point when Jonah realizes that the storm is his fault, he commands the crew of the ship to throw him overboard. He didn't have to; there were other options, options that would have shown his repentance and taken him toward Nineveh, where the Lord had commanded him to go, but he didn't choose any of those. He chose to be thrown into the raging waters. One possible reason, of course, is that he still did not, under any circumstances, want to go to Nineveh.

Another option, however, is that perhaps he didn't think that he could. 

Perhaps Jonah thought that if the Lord was so mad at him, so disappointed in him, that He would send a raging storm into an open sea, putting the lives of hundreds of sailors at risk and costing them at the very least their cargo, challenging their very best skills, unrelenting in the winds and the rains and the lightning, then maybe this God was not open to repentance right now. Maybe this God was not interested in Jonah turning around. Maybe this God didn't want to hear it. Maybe this God had already decided the prophet's fate, had already made His judgment, had already signed His decree. 

Remember - this is Old Covenant disobedience. Remember - this is before Jesus. Remember - that doesn't even really matter.

It doesn't matter because it's a feeling that even we, as Christians, as New Covenant people, as people with a Promise know all too well. It's a feeling that strikes most of us at one point or another, some of us more violently than others.

Oh, no. I've messed up too bad. I've gone too far. I've done too wrong. There's no way I can go back, no way God would welcome me back, no way I can just turn around now and do what God had asked me to do in the first place. I was wrong, dead wrong, and now, there's nothing left to do but to suffer my fate. 

Throw. me. over.

Sound familiar? I think this is one of the hardest truths about the Christian faith that we wrestle with; it's the story of the prodigal all over again (or perhaps, since it came first, the first time). We are a people prone to condemnation, even self-condemnation, and we just never really know what to do with mercy. Jonah lived in an age of mercy, and even he didn't get it. There was no grace yet, just mercy, and Jonah still thought his only option at this point was to throw himself into the storm, into the sea, to get swept up by the waves of judgment. 

His divine moment? he missed it. His mission from God? gone and past. Any chance at redemption? not even a fat one. Mercy? ha! The wind and the waves are proof enough that it's over for him. 

I wonder if Jonah even thought about Nineveh in those moments. I wonder if he reconsidered himself, if - faced with the wind and the waves - he cursed himself for ever thinking Nineveh so bad. Maybe he didn't. Maybe it is as we proposed yesterday, that he just didn't want to go to Nineveh ever and so had no qualms in his heart about what he was getting himself into. But maybe he did. Maybe as he stood on the edge of the rocking ship, believing wholeheartedly that it was now too late, he thought himself too hasty and began to wonder what would have happened if he'd gone. 

Maybe this moment was his divine moment after all. Maybe this was the beginning of the turning of his heart. Maybe as he shielded his eyes from the pounding rain, he saw visions of what might have been, thought about what he could have seen if only he'd gone before it was too late. 

But now, it's too late. Isn't it? No turning back now. God? He doesn't like disobedience, and who is the disgraceful man who goes only because it might save his own life? 

Okay, Jonah sighed. It is what it is. Throw me over. 

Throw. me. over.

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