In our chapel services, we have been diving into the book of Jonah and have taken time in our Bible Studies to go more in depth to explore the implications of Jonah in our lives today. We often lose sight of Jonah in the mix of a big fish. We have lumped the story in with some grand miracle of God that we just admit we will never fully understand, and we glaze past the story and move on. In reality, a study of Jonah displays a much deeper dive into our hearts that challenges us to confront our own rebellion. The more I know about Jonah the more I feel as if I am looking in a mirror and being challenged about the way I interact with and know the God I claim to worship. As we have spent the last several months exploring Jonah, we have been invited to question our own hearts and perception of how we act out our faith.
What is continually striking about the story of Jonah is that we rarely see him doing what we expect a prophet to be doing. As a prophet, we expect him to be obedient to God’s call, but he isn’t. As a prophet, we expect him to be eager to bring people back to the law, but he isn’t. We instead find a “man of God” who appears to be bitter and angry at the loving compassion of his God. Even when Jonah does obey and do as he is told, we get a sense he’s only doing it because he can’t run away from it. He tried to sail in the opposite direction and there was a storm; he tried to die by being thrown overboard and there was a fish, and so he seems to be obeying so that he can move on with life. This can be seen by the simple fact that when he walks the streets of Nineveh and tells them to repent, he delivers a five word sermon in Hebrew that doesn’t even tell them who God is, why he is angry, or how to repent. He shares the bare minimum to fulfill the requirement and then goes off to watch the people of Nineveh be destroyed. He isn’t scared of these people; he is angry at them – angry that they have destroyed his nation, angry at their war tactics, angry at the way they treat his nation, angry that they are the enemy and that God wants to give them grace.
Despite Jonah’s many shortcomings, we continually see God in persistent pursuit. No matter how angry Jonah got, no matter how far he ran, no matter how much he disobeyed, God pursued him to the end of the earth, to the bottom of a boat, and into the depths of the sea. The reality of our situation is that we often believe God only wants his people to perform certain tasks. He is only interested in how well we follow a to-do list and how morally right we live. If this was the case for Jonah, God could have easily chosen a different prophet for the task at hand. Maybe a prophet that was known for following instructions, always did what was expected of them, and never strayed from the truth. But that’s not what God did. Fully knowing how poorly Jonah would respond, God chose to call Jonah. This persistence throughout the story shows that God wasn’t after Jonah’s actions, he was after Jonah’s heart. It was never about performing the right tasks, it was about God’s desire to transform Jonah’s heart.
As a result, God did not give up easily when Jonah ran away, said no, asked to die, and refused to follow through on his call. While we see over and over ways in which Jonah sought to leave God behind, we never see God give up on Jonah. I wonder how you and I need to be reminded of this reality in our own lives? Do we serve God out of a sense of obligation because we fear what He will do in our disobedience? Or do we do so because we truly desire His transformative work in our lives? The reality is, even when we live our life on the run, doing as we think God desires and only engaging our minds in performing the right act, he is still pursuing our hearts. While action is certainly a portion of our faith, it should be what flows out of an already captured heart. All the work in the world does not measure up to the heart of surrender God is continually searching for. In this season, may we all take the reminder that God did not give the gift of his Son so that we might be good people. Rather, God gave the gift of His Son so that he might claim ultimate pursuit over our hearts, and not just our actions.
-By LilyAnn Matchett, CRA Student Chaplain