Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship.
But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.”
Why is Jonah asleep? Often I’ve heard Biblical stories like this interpreted to demonstrate complacency or obliviousness: Jonah is asleep because he is not paying attention, spiritually dull. Perhaps this is the case. But, when I think of myself, I often go to sleep – physically or metaphorically – when I don’t want to talk to God. And often this is because I am angry, and I know that to talk to God I will need to let go of at least some of my anger. I can’t maintain all of my rage and also do the self-humbling that is necessary to pray. I know God well enough to not let loose with all my fury, but I’m not ready to unclench my fists enough to fold my hands in prayer.
It’s a guess, but an educated one, to suggest that this might be where Jonah is at here in the story. Certainly it fits with the Jonah we see later, angry enough to die because God has relented and not destroyed Nineveh like he hoped. Jonah knows, I’m sure, that he should have followed God’s command; he knows he shouldn’t be on this boat; he knows he is in the wrong. But he doesn’t want to think about it, because thinking about it would require humbling himself, and he’s not ready to do that. So he sleeps.
It strikes me how often I clench my fists in stress, as though I am ready to start punching at the first moment that it’s required of me. We cannot talk to God when we are like this, not properly. To talk to God, we need to stretch our fingers out, let go of our pent-up rage, and let Him be God while we are children before Him. Sometimes we even need to physically open our hands up before Him as an expression that we are ready to receive from Him whatever He has. But even this is humbling. Attention to God is humbling when all we want to do is listen to our own pre-recorded loops of internal rage.
Like Jonah, we need to be shaken awake and told, sometimes by the least expected of people, to stop hiding from God, huddled in our own fury, and to turn to Him instead – to turn in humility and wait.