Advent with the Prophet Jonah: Day 4

Rembrandt van Rijn, “Christ in the Storm on the Lake of Galilee”

Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?”

He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”

This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (They knew he was running away from the Lord, because he had already told them so.)

The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?”

“Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.”

(Jonah 1:7-12)

The first thing that Jonah admits to is that he is defined by relationship with God – and not just with the god of his people but with the “God who made the sea and the dry land”. Most ancient religions had different gods for the sea and the land. The sea was associated with a chaos that needed to be subdued in order for dry land and human life to exist. Other gods managed the harvest, the storm, war, peace. Jonah’s God is a God of unity, and of everything. He cannot pick and choose which bits of his life he allows God to rule. And he cannot defy God and expect the world to be unaffected.

As anger turns us inward, it can create the illusion that we are worlds unto ourselves. We can try to ignore the impact that our anger has on others, and we can also ignore our responsibilities to others that continue even while we are raging internally. Jonah, a prophet, is called to be God’s messenger. He has refused one opportunity to be that messenger for Nineveh, and here, on the boat, he is failing to be that messenger to the others on the boat. In a book filled with irony, another irony appears here: that the others on the boat show greater reverence for Jonah’s God than he does. Compare this with Paul, who used violent storms at sea as opportunities to share God’s message with his companions on the boat. Compare this even with the fearful disciples who knew that shaking Jesus awake could rescue them from the storm. Jonah’s response is much more the one I must admit that I am inclined towards: an inward-focused denial of my responsibility to others as a person of God.

The turning point for Jonah is to accept responsibility – to recognise that his disobedience to God has not just been a matter between him and God but between him and others, even him and creation. The earth is impacted by our sin, and so are our relationships. And when we rage against God, we make ourselves gods of our own little, internal kingdoms, failing to see the storms that we have made around us and the lives that are threatened by our failure to pay attention.

The answer? Stop ignoring the storm. Enter the storm. Because the God of sea and dry land will be there in the storm, waiting for you to speak to Him.

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