Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Lesson

“What does a man do when he feels cornered? He runs away if he possibly can, doesn’t he?”

The thought played over and over in his head.  He knew there was a huge flaw somewhere in his plan, but it was the best he could come up with. He knew that his God was the God of Israel in particular, they were His chosen people, set apart to Him forever in honour of their father Abraham. So, logically, if he moved far away from Israel’s sphere, right to the edges of the known world, God would no longer care about him, or pursue him with this impossible calling to go and preach repentance to Israel’s worst enemy. Of course, no one had ever heard of a prophet trying to flee the very God he was bound to, but what other God would call a man to do something so contrary to His own people’s best interests? That’s not the way it was supposed to be at all! There was no way this could play out well. He knew that Israel was unfaithful to the covenant, he knew what the Law had promised would happen if they were. So, he counted his options, one hand against the other, either the Assyrians would not repent, in which case he would have gone to all that humiliating trouble of preaching to Nineveh for nothing, or else they would repent, and God would have mercy on them, and in the fullness of time they would crush Israel with the armies of their malice. By refusing to preach to them he had done the only thing he could for his country, and now, worn out by the stress of it all, and rocked by the motion of the ship, he fell asleep.

Some hours later, he was roughly wakened by a group of terrified sailors. The ship was no longer gently rocking but pitching violently, and he wondered how he had slept through the noise of wind and waves and screeching timbers. When they drew lots and found that he was the reason for this unnatural storm, he realized the truth. Of course there was a flaw in his plans, God wasn’t going to let him off that easily – there was no escape. He had disobeyed the Creator of the world, and the end was inevitable. He persuaded them to throw him in the water (why should they die along with him?) and the last thing he heard was their cries of amazement as the waters immediately calmed.

But before he could sink into the oblivion of death, a mighty fish appeared and swallowed him whole. It was a terrible salvation: the pitch darkness, the nauseating smell, and only the noises of its physical organs for company. It was a place where all a man’s pretensions and self-delusion were ruthlessly stripped away, till he was left with nothing but his broken prayers. But in this death there was life, and there was the light of understanding to illuminate his darkness. “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs,” he prayed, finally understanding that even his love of his own people and nation could become idolatrous when it got in the way of understanding that God wanted to extend His saving love to all peoples and nations. And there was nowhere in the world that was far enough to escape from God’s pursuing love.

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