(Note: not my pictures, but they’re funny)
Reading: Jonah 1:17, 4:6-8
This week I’m still fascinated by the book of Jonah. It’s frustrating to me that the book ends with a question rather than an answer, but there’s still so much to learn from it. Especially for people like me who refuse to learn lessons the easy way. I’ve always been one who, my mom would say, “Can’t listen so you have to feel.” That was Jonah.
Last week I wrote about how God will speak to you a second time, and how he is merciful and will allow you to have a second chance even when you’ve caused the mess you’re in. After thinking about that though, I read the book of Jonah again and my attention was captured by this phrase that was repeated over and over, “God provided.”
If you’ve been in a Christian church in the south (or maybe anywhere, I’ve only been here) for any length of time, I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “God will make a way,” or “God will provide,” Usually we are referring to God supplying some type of need with a positive response— you’ve been given financial provision, or you’ve received provision in the form of a job or a health concern improving or being healed. What is different about the instances in the book of Jonah is the fact that not all of the things God provided are things we would really want.
To understand the significance of what’s happening during these times of provision, you have to understand how Jonah got into this situation in the first place. He chose to completely disregard what he knew to be right. He intentionally ran from right, headlong into wrong. He was instructed to go to Nineveh, and instead he went in the completely opposite direction, and was in a severe storm, and then as a consequence of his actions was thrown overboard so that the other people on his ship could be saved. He knew that he deserved it. We know this because in Jonah 1:12 he says, “I know that it is my fault this great storm has come upon you.”
This is followed by a prayer in chapter 2 which acknowledges that Jonah was in trouble— he says he was in distress and called on God to help him, knowing he was in the middle of consequences and that he had been banished from the sight of God. He says his life was ebbing away and seaweed was wrapped around his head, and he was sinking to the depths of the base of the mountains. He is painting a picture of his impending death.
But all of this prayer occurs after the last verse in chapter 1 when we read, “God provided a fish to swallow Jonah.” What kind of provision is that? It’s one of those times when you might be tempted to wonder if the treatment is worse than the disease. He was in a God-ordained time-out and he was put there because he deserved to be. He could have died right then and there. But God provided a way for him to survive. It wasn’t an attractive or predictable way to get better, but it saved his life.
Then later in chapter 4, we read “God provided a vine” which grew up over Jonah to protect him from the sun and the wind east of Ninevah. And then “God provided a worm to devour the vine.” And then, in the heat of the day in the middle-eastern desert, “God provided a scorching east wind” and Jonah said he would rather die than live.
At this point, Jonah wasn’t asking to die because he was suffering consequences of his own actions. He was suffering because God took away the vine, and God caused an east wind to come. The provision of God did not in any way resemble what Jonah would want— which was for God to wipe Nineveh off the map so that his reputation as a prophet was intact, and so that his neighbors from Israel would not accuse him of being a traitor by reaching out in mercy to their vowed enemies, people who had slaughtered their loved ones and pillaged their lands. Instead he was dehydrated and sunburned and exhausted and angry, all because of God’s mercy and provision. And he was begrudging God’s extension of mercy to people who didn’t deserve it. The same mercy that had been extended to him.
I’m wondering today if maybe there’s something you’re angry about in your life that might not be an obstacle at all, but rather might be the provision of God so that he could show you that he’s sovereign. That he’s faithful. That he’s merciful. That he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. And that he’s patient enough to endure a grown man’s tantrum and even manage the minutiae of it all to send a message because he valued fellowship with his friend Jonah that much.
I hate many things in my life right now. Not dislike, not wish they were different. I hate them. I have resented them. I have asked God to do something about them because I’ve suffered enough and I’m tired, and I’m angry. But some of these things are situations that I now understand to have been provided by God to teach me of his nature. To learn not just what he can do, but who he is, and to bring me to a place where I accept that maybe I’m not as smart as I thought I was, and maybe it’s better I’m not in control of my destiny because the things I’ve been “in control of” haven’t been going so well. And as much as I have lamented the suffering, I couldn’t have learned these lessons any other way so I’m not sure I would trade them.
If this is where you are, I’m sorry. It sucks. I know it does. But if God cares about you enough to force you to suffer in order to reveal his nature, maybe instead of being resentful it’s time to be thankful. It’s not a one and done commitment. It’ll be an everyday thing. But maybe we can do it together. And if we sulk about it like Jonah, at least we have proof in scripture that God will love us anyway. —Amanda